Modern Critical Views


Edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom Sterling Professor of the Humanities Yale University

© 1999 ISBN: 0791047830

Contents Editor's Note vii Introduction 1 Harold Bloom The Cherry Orchard 9 Virginia Woolf Fragments of Recollections 13 Maxim Gorky Craftsmanship in Uncle Vanya 25 Eric Bentley Anton Chekhov 45 Raymond Williams Anton Chekhov: (Creation from the Void) 57 Lev Shestov The Cherry Orchard: A Theater-Poem of the Suffering of Change 87 Francis Fergusson Chekhov's Legacy: Icebergs and Epiphanies 101 Rufus W. Mathewson Jr. Three Sisters 121 Howard Moss

Chekhov and the Modern Drama 139 Martin Esslin Chekhov and the Modern Short Story 151 Charles E. The Sea Gull 175 David Cole "At Sea": A Psychoanalytic Approach to Chekhov's First Signed Work Finke "The Enemies": A Story at War with Itself? 197 Robert Louis Jackson Fear and Pity in "Ward Six": Chekhovian Catharsis 209 Liza Knapp Uncle Vanya as Prosaic Metadrama 219 Gary Saul Morson Chronology 233 Contributors 235 Bibliography 239 Acknowledgments 243 Index 245 185 Michael C. May The Drama in Crisis: Chekhov 169 Peter Szondi Chekhov. .

shows that Chekhov reduces "the dramatic art to its ancient root.Editor's Note This volume brings together a representative selection of the best critical essays available in English on the plays and short stories of Anton Chekhov. and in David Cole's examination of The Sea Gull. My Introduction is an overview of Chekhov's four major plays. Robert Louis Jackson's analysis of Chekhov's story "The Enemies" finds in it the ancient Greek understanding that character is fate. The mystical Lev Shestov illuminates Chekhov's inwardness. Michael C. while the poet Howard Moss gives us the gift of the subtlest and most Chekhovian reading that Three Sisters ever has received. The wonderful reminiscences of Chekhov by Maxim Gorky follow. considers Chekhov's influence upon modern short fiction. showing that all plot devices function superbly both as form and content. taking note of their relationship to Hamlet. Eric Bentley provides his fine observations on Uncle Vanya. where the high theatricality of the play is stressed. . his secular spirituality. while Liza Knapp's account of the famous story "Ward Six" emphasizes how directly Chekhov works upon his readers' sensibilities." Chekhov's first published story. This volume closes with Gary Saul Morson's exegesis of Uncle Vanya. Mathewson Jr. giving us the best sense of Chekhov as a person ever made available. Peter Szondi briefly meditates upon renunciation in Chekhov's dramas. the acts of reading within the play are seen as central to characterization. finding in it the writer's lifelong obsession with Hamlet. after which Raymond Williams emphasizes Chekhov's innovations in dramatic form. after which Charles May gives a general overview of Chekhov's relation to the modern short story. Martin Esslin concentrates upon Chekhov's place within modern drama. Novelist Virginia Woolf commences the sequence of commentary with a sensitive review of a 1920 London performance of The Cherry Orchard. considering The Cherry Orchard. Finke studies "At Sea. while Francis Fergusson." Rums W.

" That is the . This makes Chekhov (except for topical allusions. of all Russian writers. who reads no Russian perhaps cannot dispute Mirsky. even as a writer of short stories. everyone felt an unconscious desire to be simpler. is uniquely original and powerful at one mode of representation in particular: "No writer excels him in conveying the mutual unsurpassable isolation of human beings and the impossibility of understanding each other. The best critical observation on Chekhov that I have encountered is a remark that Gorky made about the man radier than the stories and plays: "It seems to me that in the presence of Anton Pavlovich. Since the action of his plays is both immensely subtle and absolutely ineluctable. in his helpful History of Russian Literature. more himself. Mirsky. who also indicts Chekhov's Russian: It is colorless and lacks individuality. He had no feeling for words. Chekhov seems to represent a simpler and more available reality. the stories also are dramatic in Chekhov's utterly original way. and presumably in ignorance of Kafka. No Russian writer of anything like his significance used a language so devoid of all raciness and verve. It is difficult to believe that this helps account for the permanent popularity of Chekhov's plays in the English-speaking theater. before the advent of Beckett. D. as Mirsky also says. technical terms and occasional catch-words) so easy to translate. he has the least to fear from the treachery of translators.S. but they verge upon vision or phantasmagoria. more truthful. Chekhov. or of his stories with readers of English. but a critic. like myself. but by no means a cruder one." Mirsky wrote this in 1926.Introduction Chekhov's best critics tend to agree that he is essentially a dramatist." That seems unjust. rather severely remarks upon "the complete lack of individuality in his characters and in their way of speaking.

the novelist or the actress. is shrewd and effective.effect upon me of rereading "The Student" or "The Lady with Dog. and despite The Seagull's limitations." These beauties deserve. The Seagull seems to me magnificent. however. One hardly knows who is funnier. which he. one another." And yet better is the ferocious hilarity of the exchange after the actress has fallen upon her knees. and Chekhov has achieved the highest comedy with them. and ultimately self-deceived. Unfortunately. bad writer and mama's boy. in one of Chekhov's frightening ironies. appears to be a self-parody on Chekhov's own part. Mrs. it is not. beginning: "If you wanted to. That hardly means we will be made any better by Chekhov. Trigorin. Arkadina. and seems to me the weakest and most contrived of Chekhov's four major plays. radier clearly modeling mese extravagant charmers upon his own relation to various actresses. but just don't let me go one single step away from you. Worthington—don't put your daughter on the . precisely because its Hamlet is so hopelessly weak. seems to me an aesthetic rather than a moral phenomenon. however repressed. the unfortunate Konstantin. you could be extraordinary. That makes wholly and deliriously rancid Trigorin's deliberations: "Why do I hear so much sorrow in this cry sent by someone so pure in soul? Why does it wring so much pain in my own heart?" But even better is his address to Arkadina." or of attending a performance of Three Sisters or The Cherry Orchard. but on some level we will wish we could be better. That desire. Trigorin begins by savoring Nina's naive but sincere offer to be ruined by him. Chekhov. carry me off. Its use of Hamlet. whose endless vows of high-mindedness always make me wish a director would interject a rousing chorus or two of Noel Coward's "Don't put your daughter on the stage. and we know he is going to take up anyway. more outrageously deceptive. Trigorin's eager victim. or even of Henry IV. with Arkadina assuring Trigorin that he is "Russia's one and only hope." and the submissive writer collapsing into: "Take me. with his artist's wisdom. Wherever it is pure comedy. it has two aesthetic disasters. and the aspiring actress Nina. who inconsiderately delays shooting himself until the very end of the play. teaches us implicitly that literature is a form of desire and wonder and not a form of the good. and will go on deserving. The Seagull surpasses Pirandello's Henry IV and even Beckett's Endgame. I do not mean by this that The Seagull is of the dramatic eminence of Endgame. II As a modern version of Hamlet. few comedies stage better or remain as authentically funny.

has the ironic subtitle "Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts. "Naturalizing the unrealistic" is indeed a summary of Chekhov's dramatic art except that Chekhov's deep wisdom is always to remind us how strange "the realistic" actually is. since I saw the Old Vic production when I was a teenager. allows Chekhov to naturalize such unrealistic conventions as the tirade and "self explaining soliloquies" spoken with others present but with no reference to others. Uncle Vanya. That does not quite save Chekhov. observes that "what makes Chekhov seem most formless is precisely the means by which he achieves strict form—namely. Chekhov did not make that mistake again in a drama. and even those three extraordinary actresses—Joyce Redman. in his superb essay on Uncle Vanya. Sybil Thorndike. years later. casual conversations of which his plays are made. from having to hear Nina proclaim. but in less splendid productions. family gatherings. It is as though Chekhov's quest had been to refute Nietzsche's declaration that we possess art lest we perish from the truth. arrivals. Margaret Leighton—but that is because I was so permanently mesmerized by Ralph Richardson as Vanya. as Falstaff. a performance eclipsed in my memory only by seeing Richardson. as Bendey goes on to show. dances. "Know how to bear your cross and have faith. and us. closing tirade can neither be forgotten nor accepted. Sonya's dark. Alas." This only apparent formlessness. The audience discovers what Vanya and Sonya and even Astrov discover: our ordinary existence has a genuine horror in it. and like The Seagull. but Chekhov was too good a comedian not to subvert his own presentation of Nina's idealism. a play where all life must be lived vicariously. and Ibsen might have gotten away with it. quite naively. it seems to survive any director." Subtlest of writers. and makes us reflect that The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard are subtitled as comedies in four acts. I have forgotten Laurence Olivier as Astrov. however we mask the recognition lest we become mad or violent. mat Chekhov's most indisputable power is the impression we almost invariably receive." . mat here at last is the truth of our existence. III Eric Bendey. and Three Sisters as a drama in four acts. reading his stories or attending his plays. departures. is my earliest theatrical memory except for the Yiddish theater. I have seen Uncle Vanya several times since. but Uncle Vanya. as it happens. meals. One might venture.stage!" One sees what Chekhov meant to do with Nina. the series of tea-drinkings.

IV Three Sisters seems to me." But Three Sisters is darker even than Uncle Vanya. Mitya. vainglory. and the bastard Smerdyakov—make up a sort of necessarily indeliberate parody of Blake's primordial man. though there the use of Hamlet is overt. Moss's comparison to Hamlet applies throughout Three Sisters far more adequately than in The Seagull. You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you despair would be the gospel of Anton Chekhov. and Job's inheritors in Milton's Samson Agonistes and Shelley's The Cenci. still it surpasses The Seagull and is imperishable." "The Lady with Dog. a dirge for the unlived life. make up a kind of fourfold parody of the prince of Denmark. one that includes the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus and the Book of Job. by way of the Four Zoas who constitute him." of no genre. We are confronted again by the singular power of Chekhov's armory of ironies. rather in the way that the Karamazov brothers Ivan. If Uncle Vanya is not quite of the order of Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. Masha. as to many other readers. Chekhov's three sisters—Olga. and Irina—together with their brother Andrey. As Bentley says. began by noting that "the inability to act becomes the action of the play. their own lucid consciousnesses and ranges of significant emotion. we are left perplexed by the play's final effect upon us. your fate is unsettled because that is how Chekhov sees the truth. a revelation that only serves to make a bad enough life still worse for all of them. Astrov and Yelena. Alyosha. it is the low intellectual and spiritual quality of Professor Serebryakov that helps reveal to Vanya and Sonya. Howard Moss. The highest tribute that can be made to Uncle Vanya is that the play partakes of the madness of great art." and "The Bishop. though more vital-istic in that darkness. Since Three Sisters is not a tragedy. somber but strong. Chekhov's masterpiece. outdoing even the grand epilogue to his work in The Cherry Orchard and such magnificent stories as "The Darling. Albion. but the aesthetic dignity of this drama produces a very different effect. except that this gloomy genius insists upon being cheerful. to describe it is to believe that attending it or reading it would be depressing. but deliberately only "a drama. .Serebryakov is an effective if simplistic representation of all those qualities of obtuseness." That suggests to me a particular tradition in tragedy. which does appear to be a Chekhovian ambiguity. in a preternaturally Chekhovian essay on the play. and ignorance that are the curse of the academic profession at all times and in all places.

again almost more Chekhovian than Chekhov was. being both motherly and exceedingly fragile. of all the major writers. Alas. the weak but imaginative Vershinin. he is less than his sisters. much as we adore her. even as Masha is the intellectual. is beyond our love. her heart would not spring open there. something we could hardly know from his various self-presentations. Greatly deluded. The sisters' self-frustration remains as much a mystery as their failure to resist their rapacious sister-in-law. unlike Hamlet. but unable to defend it. Masha gives everyone. but what we do know about some of the titans.Moss justly remarks that Olga is the least interesting of the three sisters. and Olga the benign embodiment of maternal care. and are more at home in the erotic realm than she is. incarnating the good. Irina takes the erotic place of her dead mother. Chekhov. Yet he is the artist among the four. the four Prozorovs are quite enough to break the heart of any playgoer. would . all yearners for culture. Hamlet." Chekhov would have agreed. What we remember best about Irina though is her grim metaphor in which she calls herself a locked piano to which she herself has lost the key. Natasha. She is very young. and even if she reached the Moscow of her visions. kindness. being little more than an amiable aesthete and his fierce wife's willing victim. and the spirit. more truth than anyone can hope to bear. they are incapable of learning to live to the full within the limits of the possible for themselves. An Ibsenite terror. and she certainly is almost too much for her lover. all worthy of love. We do not know very much about some of the greatest writers of the past. too alive to be quite mortal: "They may languish in life but they refuse to die in art. particularly in Act 5. and very nearly beyond even the most transcendental of our apprehensions. whether in herself or others. All of them self-defeating. being her visual representative in the play. but Tolstoy. and with a peculiar insistence—an irony only good plays manage to achieve because it is only on the stage that the human figure is always wholly represented and representative. would appear to have been the best human being. As for Andrey. Yet Olga has her own enchantments for the playgoer or reader. insists that they are survivors and not losers. but matched by her in vitality. yet otherwise strangely unconnected to her. such as Milton and Wordsworth. but maturation will not make her able to return the passions that she so frequently provokes. does not make us love them. Masha is more intricate than Irina. The sisters' suffering affects us so greatly because. but that is only because Masha and Irina are so profoundly fascinating. on stage and in the audience. who seems to be another of Chekhov's remarkably unflattering self-portraits. as Moss well knows. Irina the dreamer. Moss. they are within the limits of the possible for us.

" Chekhov is not much interested in the aim or in change as such. we attend or read the drama now and are compelled to find in it the author's pastoral elegy both for himself and his world." The pathos of change in this play is strangely similar to the pathos of stasis in Three Sisters. The Cherry Orchard is far less intricate in texture than Three Sisters. and perhaps enables us to encounter a more profound pathos. which Moss translates as their stasis. Lopakhin. with whom we can surmise he always will be. stylized yet intensely moving. so it seems clear that Chekhov by "change" does not mean anything so vulgar or reductive as social and economic. dead of drink. yet surely that is just as well. quite hopelessly. Lopakhin has considerable cruelty in him. this large-souled vision of passion on the old. but his deep feeling is for Lyubov. an endless love affair with a scoundrel. with its endlessly mobile and magnificent woman. The Cherry Orchard is a lyric meditation—theatrical through and through but a theater-poem. let alone political metamorphoses. But the distinguished and doom-eager protagonist. in love. so are we. In contrast to this self-destructive and charming gentlewoman. and she prevents the play from being farce or pure comedy. high scale. to be in Moscow or in the world of open vision. the lover of women Anton Chekhov has given us his most vivid representation of an embodied Sublime in Lyubov. So profound is Chekhov's play that I suspect the sisters must be right. but like that greater play it is of no genre. though Chekhov insisted upon his subtitle: "A Comedy in Four Acts. the coming sale of her ancestral property. since like Shakespeare he excelled in the representation of change. could be at home in a relatively pure farce. who stole from her and abandoned her. as Francis Fergusson usefully called it. or even impending change. The sisters lament that they do not know enough. But then. grand. There are strong elements of farce in The Cherry Orchard. Lyubov Andreevna Ranevsskaya. before the play ends. Son of a muzhik. is almost as much a figure of pathos as Lyubov. the death by drowning of her little boy. who is fated to lose the cherry orchard. though he has some complex elements. and the dramatic image of a crossing or transition necessarily participates in the nature of what Emerson splendidly termed "shooting the gulf or "darting to an aim. Lopakhin is a very tough soul archetype of the self-made man. In his elegy for himself. and the merchant Lopakhin.not. to be different. Yet Lopakhin is even more interesting. so I am impressed by Fergusson's complete phrase for The Cherry Orchard: "A Theater-Poem of the suffering of change. Unlike Vanya. It is true that her life has been one long disaster: an alcoholic husband. their inability to be elsewhere. is a figure of immense pathos." Whatever Chekhov's intentions. Genre hardly matters in Chekhov anyway. The one respect in which The Cherry . they go on living not wholly without hope. They embody the truth but cannot know it.

though it is unclear whether they are Prozorovs or the children of her offstage lover. the uncultured Natasha is extending the life of the Prozorov family. Charles Laughton played it in London in 1933." Unlike the sisters. but a good man. Consider only the famous and weirdly poignant end of Act 3. confronting change. the glorious Lyubov. he is not a villain. and goes on humanizing us. in his letters.Orchard could be termed an advance over the astonishing Three Sisters is that in his masterpiece Chekhov had to give us Natasha as a very negative figure. . and there is something curiously Shakespearean in his complex mixture of force and nostalgia. in his two finest plays. "Music. whose splendid name is that of a contemporary literary critic whom Chekhov despised. with the immense. Lopakhin is no Natasha. It is almost as frustrating to attempt a description of the aesthetic effects of The Cherry Orchard as it is to venture an analysis of the almost absurdly rich Three Sisters. whose vitality is thwarted. until he himself passes to tears. humanized it. One sees him handling that persuasive antithetical movement from Lopakhin proclaiming. if only we could hurry and change our life somehow. one Protopopov. "Oh. and as a man who did not shout. if only this would pass by as quickly as possible. and I always envision him as Lopakhin when I reread the play. In any case. helter-skelter way we live." The change he wants he cannot have—to be married to Lyubov. Chekhov. she is peopling the house with babies. writes a theatrical poetry that relies upon perspectives unlike any achieved before him. We see why Chekhov. which calls for an extraordinary actor. described Lopakhin as a gentle and honest person. Lopakhin's great moment. who declined the part. Chekhov wrote it for Stanislavsky himself. Chekhov. though clownish and hard. his pragmatic workmanship and his reverence for. start playing!" to his tenderly rough reproach to the bitterly weeping Lyubov. almost awe of. I do not agree with Robert Brustein when he sees Natasha's victory as "the triumph of pure evil" and says she is "without a single redeeming trait. eternally too high above him—and his clownish exit ("I can pay for everything!") reverberates darkly as we listen to Anya's ineffectual and self-deceiving but sincere and loving consolation of her mother. this unhappy.

But what right had I to call it the real thing? What did I mean by that? Perhaps something like this. a large number of them had. less advanced. hard.VIRGINIA WOOLF The Cherry Orchard Although every member of the audience at the Art Theatre last week had probably read Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard several times. At any rate. since everything is so strange. is a transcript of individual experience) so ingrained in one as to prevent one from shedding them not only without pain but with actual relief and abandonment. But the traditions are not (this. let us gather round the coffee-cups. perhaps. 1920. the English person who finds himself at dawn in the nursery of Madame Ranevskaia feels out of place. the dawn rising and the birds beginning to sing in the cherry-trees. and over-emphatic. It was no doubt on this account that as the first act proceeded the readers. let us talk (From The New Statesman. crude. or have advanced in an entirely different direction. never seen it acted before. like a cheap coloured print of the real thing. The beautiful. felt themselves shocked and outraged. at the end of a long railway journey one is accustomed to say goodnight and go to bed.) . True. now transformed into seers. of course. mad drama which I had staged often enough in the dim recesses of my mind was now hung within a few feet of me. Yet on this occasion. There is nothing in English literature in the least like The Cherry Orchard. July 24. It may be that we are more advanced. like a foreigner brought up with entirely different traditions.

Not for an instant did one suppose that Madame Ranevskaia was wrapping up a mystic allusion to something else when she spoke. Quite wrongly (since in the production approved by Chekhov the birds actually sing and the cherries are visible on the trees) I had. The journey is over and we have reached the end of everything where space seems illimitable and time everlasting. I haven't a notion. one thought scarcely grazed. let alone struck sparks from. that was because it was profound enough to illumine much more than an incident in the life of one individual. and that the old jokes still held good in the world of sanity round the corner. Her own emotions were quite enough for her. There was no "comedy of manners". finally. "When I grew up I became a governess. first. but determined to make the best of a bad business. and yet always vaguely. another. And. We are all in that queer emotional state when thought seems to bubble into words without being spoken. Who my parents were—very likely they weren't married—I don't know. "I have no proper passport. At the same time the characters were entirely concrete and without sentimentality. Dunyasha bounced away from her to the other end of the bench. by the consciousness which hung about them of being well-trained English men and women ill at ease in an absurd situation. I don't know how old I am. One instance of irrepressible British humour struck me with considerable force. with an arch humour which drew the laugh it deserved. I always feel I am still young. next by their determination to make points which brought them into touch with the audience but destroyed their harmony with each other. In the room the characters spoke suddenly whatever came into their heads. all the separate speeches and characters combined to create a single impression of an overwhelming kind. there was no conflict of individual wills. from there. Miss Helena Millais seemed to be delighted to have this chance of assuring us that she did not believe a word of this morbid nonsense. as if thinking aloud. on my imaginary stage. by the unnatural emphasis with which they spoke. finally. If what was said seemed symbolical. But it was Miss Ethel Irving who showed the steadiest sense of what decency . The actors at the Art Theatre destroyed this conception. and. It occurred in the middle of Charlotte's strange speech in the beginning of the second act. from the furthest horizons—I had tried to express this by imagining an airy view from the window with ethereal pink cherries and perhaps snow mountains and blue mist behind them. though the leap from one thought to another was so wide as to produce a sense of dangerous dislocation." she begins. But where I come from and who I am. She goes on." At the words I have italicised. tried to give effect to my sense that the human soul is free from all trappings and crossed incessantly by thoughts and emotions which wing their way from here.about everything in the whole world.

each so erratic and yet cutting out the shape so firmly. since she spoke her part accurately. Perhaps in reading one had got the whole too vague. m'lady. Mr. But the play itself—that was what overwhelmed all obstacles. And. though the scenery suggested an advertisement of the Surrey Hills rather than Russia in her wildness. by which I mean a play by Sheridan or Oscar Wilde. it is difficult to say. The only question is whether the same methods are as applicable to The Cherry Orchard as they are to The School for Scandal. Perhaps as they went on the actors forgot how absurd such behaviour would be thought in England. so that at any moment her vigil upon the bench might have been appropriately interrupted by a manservant bearing a silver tray. How it may have been with the other readers I do not know. At any rate. Nor. I felt less and less desire to cavil at the acting in general and more and more appreciation of the acting of Mr. spirit and competent intellectual outfit. Tell his Lordship I will come at once. have we any cause to sneer at English comedy or at the tradition of acting which prevails upon our stage. without veils. "The Bishop is in the drawing-room. though the sun sank and rose with the energetic decision of the stage carpenter's fist. of the realism. Long before the play was over we seemed to have sunk below the surface of things and to be feeling our way among submerged but recognisable emotions. Cancellor. How she did it. when a critic does not wish to commit himself or to trouble himself that he refers to atmosphere. of the artistic unity." "Thank you. but before the second act was over some sort of compromise had been reached between my reader's version and the actor's one. given time. both Miss Irving and Miss Millais would charm by their wit. too mystical. With every word that Mr. "I have no proper passport. as a rule. Pearson and Miss Edith Evans in particular. too mad." In that sort of play. transparent and visible to the depths. Dodd. Mr. the atmosphere of the play wrapped us round and shut out everything alien to itself. But there are four acts in The Cherry Orchard. I always feel I am still young"—how the words go sounding on in one's . something might be said in greater detail of the causes which produced this atmosphere—the strange dislocated sentences. But let the word atmosphere be taken literally to mean that Chekhov has contrived to shed over us a luminous vapour in which life appears as it is. so that though the walls rocked from floor to ceiling when the door was shut. It is. of the humour. Or perhaps the play itself triumphed over the deficiencies of both parties. I don't know how old I am. Felix Aylmer spoke as Pishchick one's own conception of that part plumped itself out like a shrivelled skin miraculously revived. but her mere presence upon the stage was enough to suggest that all the comforts and all the decencies of English upper-class life were at hand. though the quotation I have made scarcely proves it. Parker.requires of a British matron in extremity.

This being so. than by saying that it sends one into the street feeling like a piano played upon at last. Virginia Woolf . and pass far away out beyond everything! In short. and having felt nothing comparable to it from reading the play. one feels inclined to strike out every word of criticism and to implore Madame Donnet to give us the chance of seeing play after play. if it is permissible to use such vague language. as we pity blind men spelling out their Shakespeare with their fingers upon sheets of cardboard. which reverberate. not in the middle only but all over the keyboard and with the lid left open so that the sound goes on. I do not know how better to describe the sensation at the end of The Cherry Orchard.mind—how the whole play resounds with such sentences. melt into each other. and one to be viewed with pity. until to sit at home and read plays is an occupation for the afflicted only.

charming smile of his which attracted one so irresistibly to him and made one listen so attentively to his words. We ought to realize that without a wide education of the people. terrorized by the fear of losing his daily bread. looked at me out of the corners of his eyes. I would put up a large. Huebsch. Russia will collapse. Inc. bright building—very bright. everything. who goes to the village to teach children as though he were going into exile. But he ought to be the first (From Reminiscences of Anton Chekhov. like a house built of badly baked bricks.W. sensible. I should build a sanatorium here for invalid village teachers. but with us he is a journeyman. mythology. two-storied house. different musical instruments. If you knew how badly the Russian village needs a nice. a vegetable garden. crushed.. "Does it bore you to listen to my fantasies? I do love to talk of it. . There would be lectures on agriculture. ill educated. . . educated teacher! We ought in Russia to give the teacher particularly good conditions. my dear fellow." he began to speak with animation: "If I had plenty of money. coughed. and smiled that tender.) . . He is starved.. and it ought to be done as quickly as possible. I would have a fine library. A teacher must be an artist." He was suddenly silent. . an orchard. . There. Teachers ought to know everything. You know.. with large windows and lofty rooms.MAXIM GORKY Fragments of Recollections Once he invited me to the village Koutchouk-Koy where he had a tiny strip of land and a white. while showing me his "estate. in love with his calling. © 1921 by B. bees.

. Won't you come and see him? Do.. if he invites his colleagues to visit him. whenever I see a teacher. All this is disgusting." A shadow of sadness crossed his beautiful eyes. Come. worthy of attention and respect. and then. but who cares nothing for the improvement of education and only sees that the circulars of his chiefs are carried out. for his timidity. and that official who has the tide of school-inspector. lives like a hermit: he has no one to speak a word to. the school guardian. Our teacher. It was a clear. Then. It is ridiculous to pay in farthings the man who has to educate the people. the peasants ought to recognize him as a power. books." Or: "Look here.. a teacher has just come here—he's ill. He can't go out. It is intolerable that he should walk in rags. to speak so earnestly. the councilor. clumsy country." That was characteristic of him. couldn't you do something for him? I have made arrangements for him for the time being. thinking.. he said gently: "This Russia of ours is such an absurd. . there is a teacher here who would like to meet you. . shiver with cold in damp and draughty schools. In that sad and gentle smile one felt the subtle skepticism of the man who knows the value of words and dreams. catch cold. We walked back slowly in silence to the house. the priest. I feel ashamed for him." . or tuberculosis. with such warmth and sincerity. no one should dare to shout at him or humiliate him personally. Do you know. rheumatism. down below one heard a dog barking joyfully. the rich shop-keeper. and about the age of thirty get laryngitis." Or again: "Listen. as with us every one does—the village constable. and because he is badly dressed . married . . he's ill." And he added immediately with a laugh: "To-day I can only make feeble speeches ... without company. looking round. . I'll give you tea to reward your patience. waving his hand. or amusements. and there also flashed in the smile a lovable modesty and delicate sensitiveness. hot day. coughed. . the women teachers want books to be sent to them. I have fired off at you a complete leading article from a radical paper. and then suddenly to laugh at himself and his speech. It means that I'm getting old. and said slowly: "It is shameful and sad. the waves sparkled under the bright rays of the sun.. he said jestingly: "You see. little rays of wrinkles surrounded them and made them look still more meditative. but true: there are many men who envy the dogs. and." He was silent." I often heard him say: "You know. Gorky. it seems to me that for the teacher's wretchedness I am myself to blame—I mean it. .. the rural police commissioner. for eight or nine months in the year. We ought to be ashamed of it. then he becomes politically suspect—a stupid word with which crafty men frighten in the village. he is growing stupid. Chekhov took my arm.. it is the mockery of a man who is doing a great and tremendously important work.

it was Makarov." The teacher sat down. there was such a case . wiped his perspiring face. It's cruel. . . with the ease of manner of a person who is morbidly shy. words which somehow or other immediately made his questioner simple: the teacher stopped trying to be clever." And the man. lusterless voice." And he rushed headlong into philosophy. and he moved over its surface like a drunkard skating on ice.. and then. a little wrinkle appeared on his forehead. a tall. who had just been mercilessly belaboring Chekhov with . "who is that teacher in your district who beats the children?" The teacher sprang from his chair and waved his arms indignantly: "Whom do you mean? Me? Never! Beating?" He snorted with indignation. . believe me. the universe is nothing but our presentation of it. the school like a cellar.. it's not surprising. You know. he began to speak simple. "I'm not speaking of you. . . and the children—they're far from angels. hungry face and a long. He's married . . and the teacher has but a single room—under such circumstances you will give a thrashing to an angel of God for no fault. Anton Chekhov would listen attentively to the dreary. . . "Don't get excited. and he would simply belabor Anton Chekhov with a hail of questions which had never entered his head until that moment. said in his deep bass:— "It's true ." Anton Chekhov went on. Of course. he would concentrate himself upon the effort not to appear stupid in the eyes of an author. and. and therefore immediately became more clever and interesting. incoherent speech. with a sigh of relief. his salary is 20 roubles. trying to speak smoothly and "educatedly"." Chekhov put in quietly and kindly. looking fixedly into Chekhov's face with his black eyes. . hooked nose which drooped gloomily towards his chin. .. homely words. I remember one teacher. blushing at the consciousness of his own awkwardness. He sat opposite Anton Chekhov and. in his soft. said in a melancholy bass voice: "From such impressions of existence within the space of the tutorial session there comes a psychical conglomeration which crushes every possibility of an objective attitude towards the surrounding universe.Sometimes I would find that "teacher" at his house. usually he would be sitting on the edge of his chair. . . thin man with a yellow. . clear. . . but explicable. himself consumptive . . . now and again a smile came into his sad eyes. in the sweat of his brow picking and choosing his words. has four children . "Tell me. his wife is ill . But I remember—I read it in the newspapers— there is some one in your district who beats the children. smiling reassuringly. or.

assumed by a man to make himself look bigger. And now I'm leaving you as a nice. . .. more truthful. clear-cut words. . dry hand with its thin fingers in both his own.. the terrible. weighty.. and said: "He's a nice fellow." His nose quivered. in fear and trembling . close friend who understands everything. scoundrels too are unhappy—the devil take them. ominously wagging his hooked nose." He thought for a bit. shaking it.. adorns himself.. like a savage with shells and fish's teeth. . I wanted to show you that I was no ordinary mortal." I think that in Anton Chekhov's presence every one involuntarily felt in himself a desire to be simpler. .his store of clever words.. wishing to figure as a European. whenever he saw any one dressed up in this way. which illuminated. It's a great thing—to understand everything! Thank you! I'm taking away with me a pleasant thought: big men are simpler and more understandable . disturbed him. I often saw how people cast off the motley finery of bookish phrases. said:— "I came to you as though I were going to the authorities. useless tinsel and to find underneath the genuine face and living soul of the person. and nearer in soul to us fellow men than all those wretches among whom we live. and not at all amusing." "Why?" "They will run him down—whip him off. He won't be a teacher long. inwardly free. forgetting that it is ridiculous. like a fire. . more one's self." When he went out. conversations with which our dear Russians so assiduously comfort themselves. his lips twisted into a good-natured smile. accursed truth about the life of the Russian village. . suddenly. and all the other cheap tricks with which a Russian. . smiled. Good-bye. anything "brilliant" or foreign. the teacher took Chekhov's small. He did not like conversations about deep questions. . he had a desire to free him from all that oppressive. and added quietly: "In Russia an honest man is rather like the chimney-sweep with whom nurses frighten children. and he added suddenly: "To tell the truth. and. . I puffed myself out like a turkey-cock. began to speak simple. I noticed that. and he never troubled about what some people expected and others—coarser people—demanded of Anton Chekhov. to argue about velvet costumes in the . he was always himself. . All his life Chekhov lived on his own soul. . Anton Chekhov disliked fish's teeth and cock's feathers. When he said good-bye to his host. I will never forget you. Chekhov followed him with a glance. smart words.

sincere.' you. If I admit in Denis Grigoriev a criminal and conscious intention. then I must." one of them exclaimed." "Well. It was obvious that they were happy at not having to strain their minds and pretend to be seriously interested in Turks and Greeks. half closing her eyes. "And whom do you like best?" another asked. and he had a peculiar way of making other people simple. shaking his curly head. they filled his room with the rustle of silk skirts and the smell of strong scent. replied: "Probably in peace. great erudition and subtle knowledge." And all three began to talk with vivacity." "And who." the lady exclaimed gayly. When they left. genuine. . and answered with a meek smile: "I love candied fruits . how clever. and speaking briskly: "In your story. bundle him into . . they sat down politely opposite their host. "Those who are the better fed and the better educated. . Beautifully simple himself. in a serious and kindly voice. he loved everything simple. don't you?" "Very much. they merrily promised Anton Pavlovitch: "We will send you some candied fruit. Once.rature when in the present one has not even a decent pair of trousers. Anton Pavlovitch laughed quietly and said: "Every one should speak his own language. yes . are the stronger?" all the ladies asked together." I observed when they had gone. Anton Pavlovitch looked at her kindly. 'The Conspirator. without any reservation." "Ah." the second agreed solidly." On another occasion I found at his house a young and prettyish crown prosecutor. He was standing in front of Chekhov. But who will win? The Greeks or the Turks?" "It seems to me that those will win who are the stronger. certainly. And the third. "Especially Abrikossov's. pretended that they were interested in politics. thought for a while. put before me a very complex case. Anton Pavlovitch. revealing. and then gently. . three luxuriously dressed ladies came to see him. and began "putting questions":— Anton Pavlovitch. I remember. what do you think? How will the war end?" Anton Pavlovitch coughed." "You managed that nicely. added with relish: "It smells so good. on the subject of candied fruit. do you think. to whom up to that moment they had not given a thought.

Do you like photography?" It appeared tliat the lawyer was a passionate lover of photography. But suppose I regard him as a man who acted without understanding.. "Why?" "They speak and sing without feeling. dead. When Anton Pavlovitch had seen him out." . "I would acquit Denis. clean. What's to be done?" He stopped.. whose feelings towards life were still those of a puppy hunting." The lawyer began to laugh." And after a short silence: "Crown prosecutors must be very fond of fishing. and suppose I yield to my feeling of pity." "Do you like gramophones?" suddenly asked Anton Pavlovitch in his soft voice. he did not realize the criminality of his act." Anton Pavlovitch confessed sadly. sir. "And I can't stand gramophones. me question put by you must be answered only in the interests of the community whose life and property I am called upon to protect. have not yet ripened into the type of the deliberate criminal. especially for little fish. . but instantly again became pompously serious and said: "No.prison. . how can I guarantee the community that Denis will not again unscrew the nut in the sleepers and wreck a train? That's the question.. An amazing invention!" the youth answered gayly. go—and ripen. despite his admiration for mat "amazing invention.. but he is also a criminal—that is the truth. he said sternly: "They are like pimples on me seat of justice—disposing of the fate of people. threw himself back. Denis is a savage. Everything seems like a caricature . But he is a savage. Denis. I feel pity for him." "On what grounds?" "I would say to him: you. and the buttons shone as self-confidently and dully on his chest as did me little eyes in the pretty. as Chekhov had subtly and truly noticed. in the gramophone. in the interests of the community. . completely uninterested." said Anton Pavlovitch gravely." And again I observed how there looked out of that uniform a living and rather amusing little man. very much. His uniform was quite new. and fixed an inquiring look on Anton Pavlovitch's face. "O yes. little face of the youthful enthusiast for justice. he began at once to speak of it with enthusiasm. "If I were judge.

. smiling his wise smile. all its muscles drawn tight like . who was always talking of the necessity of love and pity." "It is a disease. Anton Pavlovitch." "Don't you like N. Banality always found in him a discerning and merciless judge. handsome. the other replies to it. even the flowers seem to me gray. Yet none of them asks himself what good it is to the reader.. Black. His father wore bast shoes. he hasn't returned three of my books . the servants' rooms are damp and the maids constantly get rheumatics.. and to-morrow he will tell somebody else that you cheat your servants.. reads a lot. And I have no desires ." Anton Pavlovitch agrees. They are written by Messrs. "it is a disease. "Critics are like horse-flies which prevent the horse from plowing. Everything is so gray: people. One writes an article. . and White.. the black ones with the blue stripes. healthy. or. "The horse works." said Anton Pavlovitch. beautiful. . . I do—very much." said Anton Pavlovitch with a gloomy smile." Once a plump. my soul is in pain ..He had the art of revealing everywhere and driving away banality.. "He knows everything. He's a pleasant fellow. . coughing. insulted a railway guard. Red. Calls his wife a fool in public . perhaps.. and the third reconciles the contradictions of the other two." he said." Some one in his presence complained of the heaviness and tediousness of the "serious" sections in thick monthly magazines." said Anton Pavlovitch with conviction. "Well. well-dressed lady came to him and began to speak à la Chekhov:— "Life is so boring. harmonious. It is like playing whist with a dummy. it is like a disease. and how he usually acted with extreme rudeness towards his inferiors. . "He's a very gifted man. To-day he will tell you that you're a wonderful fellow. an educated gentleman? He studied at the seminary. in Latin it is called morbus imitatis. lemonadely." Fortunately the lady did not seem to know Latin. N. "but isn't he an aristocrat. an art which is only possible to a man who demands much from life and which comes from a keen desire to see men simple. "He always writes so nobly. "They are friends' literature—written for friends.. Some one told in his presence how the editor of a popular magazine.. he's absent-minded. for no reason at all." he said of a certain journalist. . humanely. the sea. and that you have stolen from your mistress's husband his silk socks . and he wears patent-leather boots.. had. . "But you mustn't read those articles. . Anton Pavlovitch?" "Yes. . she pretended not to know it." And in his tone there was something which at once made the "aristocrat" trivial and ridiculous...

and thinks himself a genius. and reads nothing but The Medical Journal. and writes papers and sends them off to Zmiev or Smorgon for attention. drunk. they lie on their backs with their paws in the air and wag their tails. simply because it is restless and wants to proclaim: 'Look. having taken two or three parts tolerably. puts on a silk hat. Their psychology is that of a dog: when they are beaten." Nearly always there was an ironical smile in his gray eyes. An architect. plays all his life. Only once Skabitchevsky wrote something which made an impression on me . when petted. they whine shrilly and run into their kennels. and I don't remember a single remark of any value or one word of valuable advice.." he said once. I too am living on the earth. he has to twitch his skin and swish his tail. drink. An actor. and defends only the rights of property." Pain and cold contempt sounded in these words. could rouse himself vigorously against a hostile force and would not yield. . They marry in order to get their house looked after and keep mistresses in order to be thought well of in society.. But. or else is to be found somewhere behind the scenes of some theatre. having built a couple of decent buildings. But sometimes. See.' For twenty-five years I have read criticisms of my stories. if he has a practice. there was in his attitude towards people a feeling of hopelessness. when he found it necessary. at such times a harder tone sounded in his soft. I have never met a single civil servant who had any idea of the meaning of his work: usually he sits in the metropolis or the chief town of the province. "A Russian is a strange creature. but at times they became cold. hard.. figures as a connoisseur of all the arts. like to sleep in the day-time. A doctor. and then it appeared that this modest. ceases to be interested in science. he said I would die in a ditch. gentle man. and after thirty years nothing remains but a kind of gray rubbish. sincere voice. and at forty seriously believes that all diseases have their origin in catarrh. buzz about anything.. Russia is a land of insatiable and lazy people: they eat enormously of nice things. But that those papers will deprive some one in Zmiev or Smorgon of freedom of movement—of that the civil servant thinks as little as an atheist of the tortures of hell. In his youth he fills himself greedily with anything which he comes across. resigned despair. But we. In order to live well and humanly one must work—work with love and with faith. and snore in their sleep. eats oysters. sits down to play cards. I can buzz. no longer troubles to learn his parts.. sharp. And what does the fly buzz about? It scarcely knows itself. and a fly settles on his flanks and tickles and buzzes . too. A lawyer who has made a name by a successful defense ceases to care about justice.the strings on a doublebass. though contemp- . nothing remains in him. gambles on the Turf. I thought. we can't do it.. almost of cold. "He is like a sieve.

he would not say aloud and openly to people: "Now do be more decent". . he felt pity. Anton Pavlovitch in his early stories was already able to reveal in the dim sea of banality its tragic humor. he's seventy.. banality seems only amusing and unimportant. Anton Pavlovitch would immediately defend him. no one before him showed men with such merciless truth the terrible and shameful picture of their life in the dim chaos of bourgeois every-day existence." Or: "But he's still so young . The dear public. rusty signboard: something is painted on it. one has only to read his "humorous" stories with attention to see what a lot of cruel and disgusting things." laughs and hardly realizes how abominable is the well-fed squire's mockery of a person who is lonely and strange to every one and everything. but little by little it possesses a man. comfortably. when he spoke like that. he hoped in vain that they would themselves see how necessary it was that they should be more decent. but what?—You can't make out. . it permeates his brain and blood like poison or asphyxiating fames. with the humorist's gentle smile. when it reads his "Daughter of Albion. the corpse of a poet. and he described the abominations of life in the noble language of a poet. behind the humorous words and situations. "Why do you say that? He is an old man . he ridiculed it. the tragedy of life's trivialities. who submit without any resistance to mere force. No one understood as clearly and finely as Anton Chekhov. . was put into a railway truck "For the Conveyance of Oysters. He hated everything banal and foul. he becomes like an old. believe in nothing but the necessity of swallowing every day as much thick soup as possible. strong and insolent. finding the mustiness of banality even where at the first glance everything seemed to be arranged very nicely. I never saw a sign of aversion in his face. for it saw that his corpse. When a man is young." . will give them a hiding. live like fish. if in his presence you abused any one. He was ingenuously shy. deep sigh of a pure and human heart. and behind the beautiful form of his stories people scarcely noticed the inner meaning. had been observed by the author with sorrow and were concealed by him. full of bitter reproach. and feel nothing but fear that some one. it's only stupidity. and even brilliantly—and banality revenged itself upon him by a nasty prank. and.mous." And. His enemy was banality. In each of his humorous stories I hear the quiet. the hopeless sigh of sympathy for men who do not know how to respect human dignity. he fought it all his life long. drawing it with a pointed and unimpassioned pen.

out of sheer boredom. The author's mind. They missed the right moment for dying. And here is the lachrymose Ranevskaya and the other owners of "The Cherry Orchard. . . and submits with resignation to the caprices of the dissolute. understanding nothing. from boredom and stupidity. with the flabbiness of senility. and she has not within her a single live. she weeps and cannot help any one in anything. of their stupidity and idleness. like the autumn sun. Everything is strange. they straggle anxiously along. Trofimov. melts into the pale sky and its breath is terribly cold upon the earth which is covered with frozen mud. helpless. Solyony. scurries "The Darling. the crooked streets.That dirty green railway truck seems to me precisely the great. miserable people are stifled by boredom and laziness and fill the houses with an unintelligible. And by her side is Olga of "The Three Sisters": she too loves much. the little squalid houses in which tiny. . grayish people. triumphant laugh of banality over its tired enemy. like a gray mouse. parasites without the power of again taking root in life. strong word of protest against banality. banal wife of her good-for-nothing brother. Here anxiously. is sharp. when the air is transparent and the outline of naked trees. You can slap her cheek and she won't even dare to utter a sigh aloud. narrow houses. The wretched little student. Reading Anton Chekhov's stories. Vershinin dreams of how pleasant life will be in three hundred years. There passes before one a long file of men and women. speaks eloquently of the necessity of working—and does nothing but amuse himself. one feels oneself in a melancholy day of late autumn." egotistical like children. there walk the slaves of the dark fear of life. they whine. drowsy bustle. feeling that in the present there is no place for them. the life of her sisters crumbles before her eyes. the meek slave. seeing nothing of what is going on around them. motionless. and all the "Recollections" in the gutter press are hypocritical sorrow. shows up in hard outline the monotonous roads." the dear. and lives without perceiving that everything around him is falling into ruin before his eyes. is ready to kill the pitiable Baron Tousenbach. The horizon. blue and empty. behind which I feel the cold and smelly breath of banality. with stupid mockery of Varya who works ceaselessly for the good of the idlers. lonely. At moments out of the gray mass of them one hears the sound of a shot: . secretly rejoicing over the death of its enemy. filling life with incoherent words about the future. meek woman who loves so slavishly and who can love so much. slaves of their love. of their greed for the good things of life.

but it occurs to none of them to ask themselves who will make life pleasant if we only dream. my friends. in a beautiful and sincere voice. Many of them have nice dreams of how pleasant life will be in two hundred years. he looked at all these dreary inhabitants of his country. It is shameful to live like that. and has died. and observant man." . and. with a sad smile. In front of that dreary. he said to them: "You live badly. gray crowd of helpless people there passed a great. with a tone of gentle but deep reproach.Ivanov or Triepliev has guessed what he ought to do. with anguish in his face and in his heart. wise.

Those who are responsible for productions of Chekhov in London and New York know the commodity theater. AEschylus. Some of them are conscious rebels against the whole system. to do Chekhov is for them a gesture of rebellion or atonement. who have this in common: that they can be enjoyed without being taken seriously. monotonous.ERIC BENTLEY Craftsmanship in Uncle Vanya The Anglo-American theater finds it possible to get along without the services of most of the best playwrights. Schiller. of course. But why is Chekhov preserved from the general oblivion? Why is it that scarcely a year passes without a major Broadway or West End production of a Chekhov play? Chekhov's plays—at least by reputation. Strindberg—one could prolong indefinitely the list of great dramatists who are practically unknown in England and America except to scholars. (From In Search of Theater. Shakespeare and Shaw. Racine. © 1953 by Eric Bentley. are afflicted with guilt. It is easy to make over a play by Shaw or by Shakespeare into a Broadway show. if not altogether consciously. Others are simply genuine artists who. drab. Lope de Vega. Two cases of popularity in spite of greatness are. It is as if the theater remembers Chekhov when it remembers its conscience. And then there is Chekhov. which in commercial theater is the important thing—are plotless.) . Molière. and intellectual: find the opposites of these four adjectives and you have a recipe for a smash hit. as to do Shakespeare or Shaw is not.

The little book by William Gerhardi and the notes and obiter dicta of such critics as Stark Young and Francis Fergusson are. a young man and woman named Fyodor and Julia. and Sonya." The happy ending does not convince. the other an immature draft. and then spends the rest of his life repeating the performance—or vainly trying to. .The rebels of the theater know their Chekhov and love him. They have not inquired too rigorously in what that art consists. There is a lesson here for playwrights. and since being taken up by Middleton Murry's circle thirty years ago. in its last act. it is—I find—a good play to start a critical exploration with because it exists in two versions—one mature Chekhov. In the twentieth century a writer becomes an event with his first best-seller. theatric adultery! It is not a play to take too seriously. the local doctor. Yet even in The Wood Demon there is much that is "pure Chekhov. Very few people seem to have given his work the careful examination it requires. among his countrymen. the Professor's daughter by his first marriage. finally. They have helped to establish more accurate general ideas about Chekhov's art. it is another question whether they understand him. who is nicknamed the Wood Demon because of his passion for forestry. It is also to learn something about the art of rewriting when not practiced by mere play-doctors. Chekhov's earlier version—The Wood Demon—is what Hollywood would call a comedy drama: that is. Yelena is coveted rather casually by Fyodor and more persistently by Uncle Vanya. For we are losing the conception of the writer as an artist who by quiet discipline steadily develops. he has enjoyed a high literary reputation in England and America. Handsome tributes have been paid Chekhov by Stanislavsky. Nemirovich-Danchenko. The action consists to a great extent in banal comédie crisscrossing of erotic interests. or smash hit. He has struck so deep a note that the play cannot quite. Chekhov tries in the last and fourth act to re-establish the mode of light comedy by pairing off all three couples before bringing down the curtain on his happy ending. To read both is to discover the direction and intention of Chekhov's development. become funny again. the brother of the Professor's first wife. too fragmentary and impressionistic to constitute a critical appraisal. He has created people who cannot possibly be happy ever after. however. Although Vanya is the least well known of Chekhov's four dramatic masterpieces. It tells the story of three couples: a vain Professor and his young second wife. I am prompted to start such an enquiry by the Old Vic's engrossing presentation of Uncle Vanya in New York. Although in the third act there is a climax when Uncle Vanya shoots himself. a farce spiced with melodrama. Rival suitors. eternal triangles. Astrov. Julia's brother seems for a time to be after Sonya. because Chekhov has created a situation that cannot find so easy an outcome. and Gorky. Yelena.

does not love Sonya. He keeps the starting-point of his fable. is psychological. Perhaps Chekhov began by retouching his ending and was led back and back into his play until he had revised everything but the initial situation. The present owner is the daughter of the first marriage. it must be either because he later felt that his old characters would act differently or because he wanted to create more interesting characters. Vanya is not resolute enough for suicide. They would look like a deliberate elimination of the dramatic element. The plot centers on property. statue of the commander. Sonya. however. If Chekhov changed his story. Although Sonya still loves Astrov. Vanya is not dead or in the condemned cell. The four people who emerge in the later version as the protagonists are different from their prototypes in The Wood Demon. and one might feel that. but alters the whole outcome. in the later version. so he can live in a Finnish villa on the proceeds. rewritten. And if this situation seems already to be asking for realistic treatment. Consequently the last act has quite a different point of departure. Vanya does not shoot himself. Chekhov's theater. His discontent takes form as resentment against the . so to speak. he and she end in isolation. if it should be altered. thinks he can safely speak of "our estate" and propose to sell it. and are differently situated. coming on top of his discovery that the Professor. and misses. In Uncle Vanya. To the Broadway script-writer. also concerned with the rewriting of plays (especially if in an early version a likable character shoots himself). The Professor. take me. but is unable to sustain this "melodramatic" effort. and go to hell with me in your twenty-six dismal rooms!" The Wood Demon is a conventional play trying. and she goes with him. This fact is one among many that make the later ending Chekhovian: Sonya and Astrov resign themselves to lives of labor without romance. The matter is worth looking into. but he is not happy. like Ibsen's. He decides to leave. Has not Prince Mirsky told us that Chekhov is an undramatic dramatist? The odd tiling is only that he could be so dramatic before he rewrote. defeated yet not contrite: "Well. her love is not returned. in whom he has so long believed is an intellectual fraud—coming on top of his infatuation with Yelena—that drives Vanya to suicide. Yelena does not run away from her husband. The estate was the dowry off Yanya's sister. Vanya put ten years' work into paying off the mortgage. the Professor's first wife. She comes back to him. it succeeds. yet it has poignancy too. It is the shock of this proposal.The death of Vanya is melodrama. the changes should be in the direction of realism. what are we to say to the aftermath? Yelena leaves her husband. to be some-thing else. Astrov. these alterations of Chekhov's would presumably seem unaccountable. he fires his pistol at the Professor.

is . Sonya. What is perhaps not so easy to grasp is the effect of a more mature psychology upon dramaturgy.  The framework of the new play is the attractive pattern of arrival and departure: the action is what happens in the short space of time between the arrival of the Professor and his wife on their country estate and their departure from it. The unity of the play is discovered by asking the question: what effect has the visit upon the visited—that is. As to the effect of the Professor's arrival. In the earlier version they are settled. happy or tragic. These two alterations alone presuppose a radically different dramatic form. (Shaw once congratulated Chekhov on the discovery that the tragedy of the Hedda Gabiers is. are a kind of mock reversal. His big moment—the moment when he announces his intention to sell the estate—leads to reversal in Aristotle's sense. Nobody is paired off. his principle of revision being exacdy the opposite of Chekhov's. moreover. for he had begun to change it already—as soon as Vanya protested. It cannot even be said that they make the Professor change his mind. but by theatrical convention. his "rewrite" would be The Wood Demon all over again. and Vanya is dead before the end. in real life. What Chekhov is after. precisely that they do not shoot themselves. if missing his aim at such close quarters be an accident. I think.) The special satiric point is also familiar: Chekhov's Russians are chronically indecisive people. In the later. His outburst is rightly dismissed as a tantrum by his fellows. and Astrov? This question as it stands could not be asked of The Wood Demon. Just as Vanya is the kind of man who does not kill. Vanya is no murderer. it is surely one of those unconsciously willed accidents that Freud wrote of. their fate is unsettled because that is Chekhov's view of the truth. Vanya's futile shots. In the earlier version the fates of the characters are settled. it is to change and spoil everything. Nobody dies. But the climax is an anticlimax. Yelena is the kind of woman who does not run away from her husband. none of whom dreams of calling the police. the decisive point at which the whole direction of the narrative turns about. This is Uncle Vanya's suicide. And yet. not by their own nature or by force of circumstance. Chekhov has destroyed the climax in his third act and the happy consummation in his fourth. in the later of his misery. upon Vanya. If one of our script-writers went to work on it. And the general point is clear: life knows no endings. Mechanical. even temporarily. for in that play the Professor and Yelena do not depart. in the later they are unsettled. classroom analysis would no doubt locate the climax of the play in the shooting.

and in Ibsen. we naturally ask: what was that effect? To answer this question for the subtlest of the characters—Astrov—is to see far into Chekhov's art. In The Wood Demon the effect is nil. This is Vanya's discovery and gradually (in the course of the ensuing last act) that of the others. really is so and will remain so. recognition means the discovery of a secret which reveals that things are not what all these years they have seemed to be. In Ibsen the whole surface of life is suddenly burst by volcanic eruption. Uncle Vanya opens with a rather rhetorical suggestion that this might be so. In Ibsen the terrible thing is that the surface of everyday life is a smooth deception.not reversal but recognition—also in Aristotle's sense. In The Wood Demon. Thus Chekhov has created a kind of recognition which is all his own. Vanya. This growth from ignorance to knowledge is. One is the first of the two climaxes in Act III—when Yelena sounds out Astrov on Sonya's behalf. and Yelena. In Uncle Vanya. as has been suggested. could the outcome be stated in such round terms. If. where there is no real change from ignorance to knowledge." In Aristotle's sense. Sonya. being Vanya's outburst before the shooting). he resigns himself to his old role of living without love. It ends with the knowledge that it certainly is so. and is attempting the halftone. the action consists in the effect of the presence of the Professor and Yelena upon Sonya. The action has not yet been unified. We then learn (and there is no trace of this in The Wood Demon) that he is infatuated with Yelena. or experimental proof. and Astrov. In Uncle Vanya. nobody is very conclusively loving or hating. Sonya gets Astrov in the end. . In Chekhov the crust is all too firm. In the Greeks. Aristotle says that the change from ignorance to knowledge produces "love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune. Here again Chekhov is avoiding the black and the white. however. our cardinal experience of the play (the moment of recognition. It lies buried in the chaos of Chekhov's materials. In Chekhov the terrible thing is that the surface of everyday life is itself a kind of tragedy. The old routine—in this as in other respects—resumes its sway. the tragicomic. perhaps. Vanya. though one hesitated to believe it. a knowledge shared by all the characters who are capable of knowledge—Astrov. the tragic and the comic. the volcanic energies of men have no chance of emerging. when Astrov gives up Yelena. We are first told that Astrov is a man with no time for women. recognition means that what all these years seemed to be so. "the change from ignorance to knowledge. even embryonically. there is a thread of continuity. Nobody's fortune at the end of Uncle Vanya is as good or bad as it might be. but with a Chekhovian application. in much French drama." But only in The Wood Demon. The later version of this part of the story includes two splendid scenes that were not in The Wood Demon. In Uncle Vanya.

Astrov is not to be congratulated on his beautiful dreams. he is to be pitied. Beforehand Astrov had maintained. the kiss is a tribute to the Might-Have-Been. he leaves his forest to rot. The action of the play is his chance to disprove his own thesis—a chance that he misses. his whole nature. the beautiful. the growing. being what he was. Yet the rest of the play. But this would be wrenching his remarks from their context. Astrov's failure to return Sonya's love is not a result of the Professor's visit. The "wood demon. that nothing has changed. a scene so subtle that Stanislavsky himself misinterpreted it: he held that Astrov was still madly in love with Yelena and was clutching at her as a dying man clutches at a straw. then? In the earlier version he had been known as the Wood Demon or Spirit of the Forest. and Astrov knows it. How much difference has the visit made? It has made the case much sadder. What was he. he is indifferent.Astrov reveals that it is Yelena he loves. who perhaps could not quite believe himself at the beginning." devoted to the creative and the natural. can love only Yelena the artificial. The Professor's visit clarifies Astrov's situation—indeed. When Yelena arrives. the sterile. and he is kissing her when Vanya enters. he had failed to return it even before the Professor's arrival. Even in the early version he was not really a Wood Demon. The effect of the visit is to confirm (as part of the general Chekhovian pattern) the fact that what seems to be so is so. the constructive. His hope that mankind will some day do something good operates as an excuse for doing nothing now. that what has been will be. the competent. Because he also speaks of great ennobling changes in the future of the race (not unlike those mentioned in the peroration of Trotsky's Literature and Revolution). that he was bound to miss. That was only the ironical nickname of a crank. What really happens is less histrionic and more Chekhovian. The uninitiated must certainly find it strange (despite the august precedent of Antony and Cleopatra) that the play starts with a summary of the whole disaster. the good. The second is Astrov's parting from Yelena in the last act. he has been taken to be a prophet of a great political future for Russia in the twentieth century. he had already confessed himself a failure in some of the opening speeches of the play. To Sonya. . True. For both. Afterward we know that it is Sonya in particular to whom he is indifferent. In the later version even the nickname has gone. that he was indifferent to women. is the proof that Astrov. Not very much. the useless. and presumably believed. is right after all. and in Uncle Vanya the long speeches are retained in which he advances his ideal of the natural. and Astrov is even more of a crank. The parting kiss is passionless on Astrov's side. This time it is Yelena who feels a little passion. Chekhov had to point out in a letter that this is not so. though. anything but a gratuitous appendix. It is an expression of his own futility.

Chekhov's sustained point is precisely that these weeping. They spring from a conviction of human potentiality—which is what separates Chekhov from the real misanthropes of modern literature. His people are no weaker than ninety-nine out of every hundred members of his audience. are peculiar to himself. and all at once for some reason—we shall never meet again." he says to Yelena in the last scene. tension. squirming." Such lines might be found in any piece of sentimental theater. or what could come only after thousands of years. but there are also elements of protest and revolt in them. at least in their effect. the semihuman. dialectic. even more vulgar. it is not because they were always without potentialities. some dim sense of responsibility. they are very weak. If one school of opinion romanticizes all Chekhov characters who dream of the future. they dream of what their lives actually could have been. He enriched his dramas in ways that belong to no school and that. deeply moving? Is it not because the sense of death is accompanied with so rich a sense of life and the possible worth of living? III Chekhov had a feeling for the unity of the drama. And because Chekhov feels this. Chekhov followed Ibsen in portraying the average mediocre man—I'homme moyen sensuel—without ever following the extreme naturalists in their concern with the utterly downtrodden. interplay. in which the suffering creature is as much an insect as a man. The actor. but an old-maidish hobby. yet his sense of the richness of life kept him clear of formalism. there is emotion. But why is it that Chekhov's famous "elegiac note" is. That is to say. should not make Astrov too negative." from a thinker to a crank.Clearly they were no real fulfillment of his nature. like Persian cats. another. from a man of feeling to a philanderer. traces of will-power. So it is with everything in this world. sees them as weaklings and nothing else. Freud would have enjoyed the revealing quality of his last pathetic proposal that Yelena should give herself to him in the depth of the forest. the inarticulate. suffering creatures might have been men. movement. In fact. . in his plays. Astrov made his futile attempt at seduction. Astrov moves us because we can readily feel how fully human he might have been. The Might-Have-Been is Chekhov's idée fixe. how he has dwindled. If his characters never reach fulfillment. in the full context. They were ersatz. and as soon as something else seemed to offer itself. of course. His people do not dream only of what could never be. "It is strange somehow. under the influence of "country life. He never could have written a play like Galsworthy's Justice. "we have got to know each other.

he is fascinated by Yelena." This is not merely a matter of Astrov's character. It is rather the use to which Chekhov puts the symbol that is remarkable. They are a path to the imagination and to those deeper passions which in our latter-day drama are seldom worn on the sleeve. no purity. What a paradox: our playwrights who plump for the passions (like O'Neill) are superficial. what he makes of his "wood demon. They cry out. His ending is the same as Vanya's—isolation. The destructive passions do not destroy. not lived . you are all recklessly destroying the forests and soon there will be nothing left on the earth.While others tried to revive poetic drama by putting symbolist verse in the mouths of their characters. like Ibsen's. all my feelings are blunted. "I have not lived. Both Vanya and Astrov have been suffering a gradual erosion and will continue to do so. there will be no fidelity. writes the tragedy of the surface). By this is meant not only that he used symbols. Chekhov found poetry within the world of realism. thanks to you. no capacity for sacrifice left on the earth either! Why is it you can never look at a woman with indifference unless she is yours? That doctor is right: it's because there is a devil of destruction in all of you. both impulses are crushed in the daily routine. Both versions of Uncle Vanya are the battleground of two conflicting impulses—the impulse to destroy and the impulse to create. In The Wood Demon the conflict is simple: Vanya's destructive passion reaches a logical end in suicide. Unsatisfied by his forests. I have worked too hard. and Chekhov. I have ruined and wasted the best years of my life. for instance. Thus if a symbol in Chekhov is explained—in the manner of the raisonneur—the explanation blazes like a denunciation. or simply by imitating the verse drama of the past. In Uncle Vanya the pattern is complex: Vanya's destructive passion reaches a pseudo-climax in his pistol-shots. Yelena says: As Astrov was just saying.. We have seen.. You have no mercy on woods or birds or women or one another. and . and soon. who pretends to show us only the surface (who. the creative passions do not create. crushed by boredom and triviality. Or. over a large territory. I have grown vulgar. rather. Astrov's creative passion a logical end in happiness ever after. The Broadway title Skylark is symbolic in exactly the same way as The Wild Duck and The Seagull. Symbolism of a stagy kind was familiar on the boulevards and still is. In the same way you recklessly destroy human beings. is passionate and deep! No modern playwright has presented elemental passions more truly. Astrov's creative passion has found no outlet. Chekhov's symbols spread themselves." "I have grown old. as I have said. and a pseudo-culmination in bitter resignation.

and how the play ends. the first two differ chiefly in their disposition of the material. terms like exposition. The scene is one of Chekhov's gardens. with time-sequence. Life just drags on. Act I of The Wood Demon is a rather conventional bit of exposition: we get to know the eleven principals and we learn that Vanya is in love with Yelena.I believe I am not capable of being fond of anyone. Fyodor and his father are eliminated." The theme of human deterioration is followed by the theme of aspiration: "Those who will live a hundred or two hundred years after us. but they often omit a more obtrusive factor—the principle of motion. While the later acts differ from The Wood Demon in their whole narrative. "I may well look old!" It is Astrov speaking. She offers him tea. the nineteenth-century drama proceeded upon the principles of boulevard drama (as triumphantly practiced by Scribe). Analyses of the structure of plays seldom fail to tell us where the climax lies. where the exposition is completed. Consider the dynamics of the first three lines in Uncle Vanya.) The evening opens. Astrov is sitting with the Nurse." Chekhov's people never quite become wounded animals like the Greek tragic heroes. To the Broadway producer this is a good opening because it gives latecomers a chance to take their seats ." (The word poetic is surely more accurate. like most fiction. complication and denouement are perfectly adequate because the play is. In general. To deal with such a play. however. but he is not a regular vodka-drinker. the play begins. That is why many devotees of popular drama are bored by Chekhov. The act is no longer mere exposition in the naturalistic manner (people meeting and asking questions like "Whom did you write to?" so that the reply can be given: "I wrote to Sonya"). In Uncle Vanya Chekhov gives himself more elbow-room by cutting down the number of characters: Julia and her brother. Consider even smaller things than the use of overture. but music is the accepted metaphor. Look at the first two acts of Uncle Vanya. his depth and intensity—provided we remember that these qualities require just as prodigious a technique for their expression. stupid. dirty. it's stifling. does not reflect a preoccupation with suspense. "And life is tedious. the way in which a play copes with its medium. that they depend just as much on details. The "musical" principle of motion. it is worth stressing his simplicity and strength. "Besides. and there is a lull in the conversation. will they remember and say a good word for us?" The overture ends. we might say. The principle of organization is what one often hears called "musical. But through what modern playwright does suffering speak more poignantly? At a time when Chekhov is valued for his finer shades. for whom we are struggling now to beat out a road. She offers him vodka." he says. with a little overture in which themes from the body of the play are heard. primarily a pattern of suspense.

) Yes. arrivals. but significantly precise. The rhythm of the play is leisurely yet broken and. departures. (Those who are used to the long novelistic stage-directions of Shaw and O'Neill should remember that Chekhov. to suspense-lovers. To Chekhov these little exchanges. This is his principle of motion. as played by Olivier.without missing anything. meals. baffling. . buttoning his coat—than in a piece of furniture. the whole Stanislavsky school of acting and directing is testimony that Chekhov was successfully sachlich—that is. factuality—to imagination and thought.) Now. of which his plays are made. quasi-naturally. these sultry pauses. he sits down on the gardenseat and straightens his fashionable tie): Yes. simplified manner of Sophocles or Ibsen. the series of tea-drinkings. formal and casual. Chekhov does tell a story—the gifts of one of the greatest raconteurs are not in abeyance in his plays—but his method is to let both his narrative and his situation leak out. not in the centralized. ironic (like Jane Austen). through domestic gatherings. . for instance. the Sachlichkeit may more often consist in a piece of business—I shall never forget Astrov. Chekhov is one of its few masters. . As we have seen. family gatherings. On the stage. are the bricks out of which a drama is built. It would be an exaggeration to say that there is no story and that the succession of scenes marks simply an advance in our knowledge of a situation that does not change. on the stage. he has had a nap after lunch and looks rumpled. not only accurate. so to speak. seems to have possessed neither of these gifts—certainly not the second. He presents it. What makes Chekhov seem most formless is precisely the means by which he achieves strict form—namely. Chekhov works with a highly unified action. however.) . . Yet people who cannot interest themselves in this kind of development as well as in straightforward story-telling will not be interested in Chekhov's plays any more than they would be in Henry James's novels. (Pause. is achieved this way (compare it with the entrance of the matinee idol in a boulevard comedy): VANYA (comes out of the house. indirectly. casual conversations. The method requires two extraordinary gifts: the mastery of "petty" realistic material and the ability to go beyond sheer Sachlichkeit—materiality. But the few that do exist show an absolute mastery. . concrete. for example. (Galsworthy. The art by which a special importance is imparted to everyday objects is familiar enough in fiction. like Ibsen. . added stage-directions only here and there. Chekhov was so far from being the average novelist-turned-dramatist that he used the peculiarly theatrical Sachlichkeit with the skill of a veteran of the footlights. moreover. but obliquely. The first entrance of Vanya. dances.

Most obvious among these is the soliloquy. leaving the others to their desolation. all our sufferings. if there may be said to be an overture. but he does use the kind of soliloquy in which the character thinks out loud. drowned in mercy. Chekhov does not let his people confide in the audience. For evidence of Chekhov's theatrical talents one should notice the visual and auditory components of this final minute of the play. Vanya's mother . dear uncle. but wait. we shall patiently bear the trials that fate sends us. uncle. by combining the most minute attention to realistic detail with a rigorous sense of form. and there beyond the grave we shall say that we have suffered. he constructs for himself a set piece that will do his job. long chain of days and weary evenings. Vanya "passes his hand over" Sonya's hair: SONYA: We must go on living! (Pause. played by Sonya. which naturalism prided itself it had discarded. in a weary voice) We shall rest! ("Waffles" softly plays on the guitar. passionate faith. Uncle Vanya! We shall live through a long. sweet like a caress. We have just heard the bells jingling as the Professor and his wife drive off. We shall rejoice and look back at these troubles of ours with tenderness. We shall rest. He diverges widely from all the Western realists—though not so widely from his Russian predecessors such as Turgenev. beautiful. and you and I.) We shall rest! (The watchman taps. that we have wept. In Uncle Vanya. (Through her tears) You have had no joy in your life.How did Chekhov transcend mere Sachlichkeit and achieve a drama of imagination and thought? Chiefly. and God will have pity on us. (Wipes away his tears with her handkerchief.) Poor. lovely. I have faith. (Puts her arms around him. we shall see all earthly evil. whose Month in the Country could be palmed off as a Chekhov play on more discerning people than most drama critics—and his divergences are often in the preservation of elements of style and stylization. that our life has been bitter to us. shall see a life that is bright. you are crying. we shall see all heaven lit with radiance. we shall work for others. Uncle Vanya. (Slips on her knees before him and lays her head on his hands. Waffles plays softly. uncle. both now and in our old age. wait. played by Astrov. gentle. and where there is no traditional device for achieving a certain kind of beginning or ending. poor Uncle Vanya. and our life will be peaceful. and have no rest. and when our time comes we shall die without a murmur. Vanya's mother is reading. fervent. which will fill the whole world. "Waffles"—one of the neighbors—is softly tuning his guitar. there may also be said to be a finale.) We shall go on living.) We shall rest! We shall hear the angels. I think. with a smile—and we shall have rest. I have faith. I have faith.

But Chekhov knew without these awful examples where to draw the line. He not only exploits the real explicitness and complication and abstractness of bourgeois talk. the prose with its rhythmic repetitions and melancholy import—these compose an image. On the assumption that a stage character may be much more self-conscious and aware than his counterpart in real life. which Chekhov reintroduces. very likely. they talk about themselves and address the whole world. They make what might be called self-explaining soliloquies in the manner of Richard III—except for the fact that other people are present and waiting.makes notes on the margin of her pamphlet. like Ibsen's. a wide range of conversational styles and topics is therefore plausible enough. the watchman's tapping. as in every successful artist. It has been used more crudely by Odets and Saroyan. in our time the background music of movies and the noises-off in radio drama have made us see the dangers in this sort of theatricality. The form of the tirade. True. or re-introduces. A weakness of much realistic literature is that it deals with inarticulate people. However. the postures. This device is perhaps Chekhov's most notorious idea. Chekhov lets his people talk much more freely than any other modern realist except Shaw. oratorically composed speech. is. Chekhov's realistic plays—unlike Ibsen's—have their purple patches. if a stage picture with its words and music may be called an image. and the extension of content is one of the chief means by which Chekhov escapes from stolid naturalism into the broader . the dramaturgic utility of the idea is equally evident: it brings the fates of individuals before the audience with a minimum of fuss. But Chekhov is not too pedantic about plausibility.) We shall rest! (Curtain drops slowly. a couple of special conventions. Chekhov's realistic milieu. In Chekhov. however. bourgeois and "intellectual". serves a purpose both as form and as content. Not always listening to what the other man is saying. They talk on all subjects from bookkeeping to metaphysics. the Nurse knits her stocking. the music. the gestures. and it has usually been interpreted in what is indeed its primary function: to express the isolation of people from one another. each device functions both technically and humanly.) The silence. but the dramatist has no recourse—except to the extent that drama is expressed not in words but in action. to make soliloquies of their own. such as the drama has seldom known since Shakespeare. is one of the chief means to an extension of content. The novelist can of course supply in narrative and description what his milieu lacks in conversation. he introduces. This is the origin of the second Chekhovian convention: each character speaks his mind without reference to the others. The first is the tirade or long.

Chekhov was a master of the particular and the general—which is another sign of the richness and balance of his mind. the very crudeness of the characterization has dramatic point. Vanya's mother. His drama bred a school of acting which gives more attention to exact detail than any other school in history. The Nurse. it might also have bred a school of dramaturgy which could handle the largest and most general problems. Serebryakov is a simple case placed as such in contrast to Vanya and Astrov. not to say in trivialities. a character whose mere existence gives direction to the action as a whole.realities that only imagination can uncover. the women through their finer feeling. Although this character is not so satisfactory a creation as the professor in Chekhov's tale A Tiresome Story. She sits knitting. If Vanya might be called the active center of the play (in that he precipitates the crisis). and though Chekhov does too little to escape the cliché stage professor." It is not so much the force Chekhov gives to any particular ideas as the picture he gives of the role of ideas in the lives of men of ideas—a point particularly relevant to Uncle Vanya. (Neither is Ibsen. IV Obviously Chekhov is not a problem playwright in the vulgar sense. yet—and this is what differentiates them from most dramatic characters—aware of the realm of ideas and imagination. Yelena and Sonya—the men aware to a great extent through their superior intellect. common phenomenon are grouped the others. each of whom has a different relation to the world of culture and learning. It is the absorption of the ideas by the characters. neither is Shaw. He would undoubtedly have agreed with Henry Becque: "The serious thing about drama is not the ideas. and so he has become a valetudinarian whose wife truly says: "You talk of your age as though we were all responsible for it. the dramatic or comic force that the characters give to the ideas. those of undeveloped awareness below him. stands for life without intellectuality or education. Below him are three minor characters—Waffles. there is also a passive center. The Professor is the middle of the design. so to say. who is not to be found in The Wood Demon. and the fine talk passes her by. Chekhov's people are immersed in facts. Who is?) Nor is his drama about ideas. One of the many significant cross-references . after all. a monotony that she interprets as beneficent order. and the Nurse. Above him are Vanya and Astrov." Around this familiar and. This is Professor Serebryakov. buried in circumstances. characters of developed awareness are. His devotion to ideas is no more than a gesture of unearned superiority. She stands for the monotony of country life. above him.

. Listen to his account of himself (it is one of Chekhov's characteristic thumbnail autobiographies): My wife ran away from me with the man she loved the day after our wedding on the ground of my unprepossessing appearance. and especially for reading about them. It's about time to leave off. Less intelligent. she has never seen through the Professor. It's awful. . he has sent his new pamphlet. MOTHER: I want to talk. I love her to this day and am faithful to her. her beauty. and I gave her all I had for the education of her children by the man she the play is Vanya's remark at the beginning that the Professor's arrival has upset the household routine and the Nurse's remark at the end that now the meals will be on time again and all will be well. . You used to be a man of definite convictions. less sensitive than Vanya. as for the Professor. in accordance with the laws of nature. He is attacking what he himself maintained seven years ago. but she understands very little. Forgive my saying so. but you have so changed in the course of the last year that I hardly know you. Waffles is the parody of one. Jean. brilliant personality. Drink your tea. . books and ideas are not a window through which he sees the world so much as obstacles that prevent him seeing anything but . Waffles. the man she loved is dead. VANYA: There's nothing awful in that. VANYA: Interesting} MOTHER: Interesting but rather queer. His "pride" is a form of stupidity. She is an enthusiast for certain ideas. . And she? Her youth is over. . I help her as far as I can. But I have never been false to my vows. . VANYA: We have been talking and talking for fifty years and reading pamphlets. has faded. MOTHER: You don't like listening when I speak. Vanya's mother stands on the first rung of the intellectual ladder. Her whole character is in this exchange with her son: MOTHER: . What has she left? Just how Waffles is able to keep his equilibrium and avoid the agony that the four principals endure is clear enough. I don't know why. but I still have my pride left. For him. On a slightly higher plane than the tract-ridden Mother is the friend of the family. I have lost my happiness. . maman. If Vanya is the ruin of a man of principle.

In The Wood Demon (where his character is more crudely drawn). I! Although there are no pockmarked Parises. one would find that he is a more substantial artist than even his admirers think. If one were to take up a couple of Chekhov's key concepts and trace his use of them through a whole play. ' Waffles also finds reflections of life more interesting than life itself. And a little later: Your Excellency. with a very funny satirical inscription. The Professor's response to the crisis is a magnanimity that rings as false as Waffles's pride: Let bygones be bygones. reality and illusion. he shouts: If I lived in an intellectual center. his plays are developed thematically. yet there are more things in heaven and earth. I believe I could write a whole treatise on the art of living. youth and age. as once upon a time a certain Paris carried off the fair Helen. innocence and sophistication. a subject worthy of the brush of Aivazovsky. I have gone through such a lot and thought over so many things in these few hours.. Horatio. heroism and lethargy. . life and death. Chekhov is writing "drama of ideas" only in the sense that Sophocles and Shakespeare and Ibsen were—that is to say. As one can analyze certain Shakespeare plays in terms of the chief concepts employed in them—such as Nature and Time—so one might analyze a Chekhov play in terms of certain large antitheses. they could draw a caricature of me for a magazine. it is I who carried off your wife. After what has happened.. having helped Yelena to run away. feeling and apathy. than are dreamt of in your philosophy! In the more finely controlled Uncle Vanya this side of Waffles is slyly indicated in his attitude to the shooting: NURSE: Look at the quarreling and shooting this morning— shameful! WAFFLES: Yes. culture and nature. aside from explicit mention of various ideas and philosophies. Aside from this special treatment of the modern intellectual and semi-intellectual. use and waste.themselves.. freedom and captivity. such as (the list is compiled from Uncle Vanya) love and hate.

" says Vanya. to think of happiness. "My heart is too heavy.Happiness and work. and his mother goes on searching for contradictions in her pamphlets. whose parting word is: "Permit an old man to add one observation to his farewell message: you must work. (after a pause). . Nikhail Lvovich. The outsider's view of Chekhov is of course that he is "negative" because he portrayed a life without happiness. . In the less explicit Uncle Vanya this passage does not appear. . ASTROV: Yes . . But the whole passage.) SONYA: There's no evil without some good in it. . One's whole life should consist of sacrifices. Uncle Vanya shot himself. True. but in Uncle Vanya they are found in by no means harmonious association. for instance. it sometimes looks like the antidote to all the idleness and futility. The amateur's view is that he is "positive" because he preached work as a remedy for boredom. ." The mature Chekhov has no direct mouthpieces. that the afterlife will so fully make up for this one that we should learn not to take our earthly troubles too seriously. What we do have is Sonya's beautiful lyric speech that ends the play. enforces the meaning: work for these people is not a means to happiness. . Work! Work!" To Sonya. the play opens with Astrov's just complaint that he is worked to death. for the Professor. the whole play. On the other hand. . A great misfortune befell you and you're pampering your self-love. "I must make haste and occupy myself with something. In the thrill of the words perhaps both reader and playgoer overlook just what she says—namely. In The Wood Demon Astrov was the author's mouthpiece when he replied to Sonya: "You are trying to distort your life and you think this is a sacrifice. .. . The word work shifts its tone and implication a good deal within the one play Uncle Vanya. Work has been an obsession. my friends! you must work!" Vanya and Sonya obey him—but only to stave off desperation. Both views need serious qualification. . but a drug that . They are not exactly antitheses. . ASTROV: What else is there to think of? SONYA: Our sorrow came only because we thought too much of happiness. . and is still one. This is not Chekhov speaking. No one has a heart. . you are trying to distort your life and you think this is a sacrifice. Sorrow has taught me this—that one must forget one's own happiness and think only of the happiness of others. . a fact that was rather more than clear in The Wood Demon: ASTROV Are you happy? SONYA: This is not the time. work is the noblest mode of self-destruction. ASTROV : So! (Pause. . It is an overwrought girl comforting herself with an idea.

That Worthless Fellow Platonov. He used only one full-length structure: the four-act drama. but the noise is taken further off-stage. and along one straight road. only by discipline and development did he become the kind of playwright the world thinks it knows him to be. the last two plays—The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard—when he was about forty. and are experimental in the sense that he was still groping toward his own peculiar style.will help them to forget. only a great mimic and caricaturist could have created Waffles and Gaev. Platonov as a Don Juan. the line that stretches from Ivanov (1887-9) to The Cherry Orchard (1903) is of great interest. In each case it is a "Russian" variant that Chekhov shows—Chekhov's "Russians" like Ibsen's "Norwegian" Peer Gynt and Shaw's "Englishman" representing modern men in general. V So much for The Wood Demon and Uncle Vanya. The three early plays are violent and a little pretentious. Chekhov moved quietly. if the later Chekhov eschewed certain kinds of action. Ivanov is referred to as a Hamlet. They are both the daydreams of men who Might Have Been. Happiness they will never know. it was not for lack of dramatic sense in the most popular meaning of the term. While they pushed tempestuously forward. and one set of materials: the rural middle class. Astrov's yearnings are not a radical's vision of the future any more than the Professor's doctrine of work is a demand for a workers' state. The development is from farce and melodrama to the mature Chekhovian drame. Those who find Chekhov's plays static should read the three early pieces: they are the proof that. Three—Ivanov. Astrov as a Wood Demon. the farthest refinement of . slowly. transforming old modes and inventing new ones. Two plays—The Seagull and Uncle Vanya—were written in his middle thirties. Chekhov wrote five other full-length plays. and The Wood Demon—were written in his late twenties. Chekhov was born a melo-dramatist and farceur. the pistol continues to go off (all but the last of the seven plays have a murder or suicide as climax or pseudo-climax). For all that. endlessly inventing new forms. Each presents a protagonist (there is no protagonist in the four subsequent plays) who is a modern variant upon a great type or symbol. or any of the other first-rate moderns. until in The Three Sisters it is "the dim sound of a far-away shot. Strindberg. As for melodrama. literally and figuratively. Not that the later plays are without farcical and melodramatic elements. perpetually changing their approach. Chekhov's development as a playwright is quite different from that of Ibsen." And The Cherry Orchard.

. mine is a canary's happiness. unseen by those who call our house a haven of intellectuals. not only in documentary truth. He keeps the substance of Yelena's declaration that "the world perishes not because of murderers and thieves. there is a Balzac in Henry James. As melodrama. He is not prim or precious." Only in The Wood Demon does she repeat the description. very typical of our time. These are a few isolated facts. culminates not with the sharp report of a pistol. The homely Uncle Vanya succeeds on the title page the oversuggestive Wood Demon." (In bodi versions Yelena has earlier described herself as an "episodic character. as Jacques Barzun has argued. And the truth of Chekhov's colors has much to do with the delicacy of his forms. In Uncle Vanya it is not used at all." and deletes the end of the sentence: ".Chekhov's method. from hostility among good people. Only in the early version does Vanya's mother add to her remark that a certain writer now makes his living by attacking his own former views: "It is very. Restraint is for him as positive an idea as temperance was for the Greeks. In Chekhov the toned-down picture—as I hope the example of Uncle Vanya indicates—surpasses the hectic. with its tale of the ruined heroine. and one might find a hundred others to demonstrate that Chekhov's plays retain a relationship to the cruder forms. The Seagull. might have appealed to Verdi or Puccini. the glamorous popular novelist. but also in the deeper truth of poetic vision. highbrowism.. from all those petty squabbles. Even the story of The Cherry Orchard (the elegant lady running off to Paris and being abandoned by the object of her grand passion) hardly suggests singularity. there is a Sardou in Chekhov. Only in The Wood Demon is the career of the Professor filled in with excessive detail (Heidelberg and all) or Astrov denounced as a socialist. color scheme of melodrama. but from hidden hatred. and have their part in the dialectic of the whole." Chekhov deletes Vanya's open allusion to the "cursed poisonous irony" of the sophisticated mind. Even more revealing. the despairing artist hero. precise thud of an ax. and Chekhov forgoes the melodrama of a forest fire. Farce and melodrama are not eliminated. If. Never have people betrayed their convictions with such levity as they do now. a woman's happiness." He does not have Yelena explain herself with the remark: "I am an episodic character. over-explicit themes are deleted. In the later plays life is seen in softer colors.) Chekhov does not tone tilings down because he is afraid of giving himself away. but with the dull. or rarefaction. Chekhov once wrote in a letter: "When a man spends the least possible number of movements over some definite . but subordinated to a higher art. In The Wood Demon the canary image also receives histrionic reiteration. Chekhov is no longer eager to be the author of a Russian Hamlet or Don Juan.

a mere contriver of nuance." But as there is a "definite action. The "trigger effect" is as dramatic in its way as the "buried secret" pattern of Sophocles and Ibsen.action. To others he seems a master of dramatic form unsurpassed in modern times. We have seen how." as "large forces have been brought into play." The Chekhovian form as we find it in the final version of Uncle Vanya grew from a profound sense of what might be called the economy of art. (1946) ." we are not cheated of drama. and one of his critics speaks of a "'trigger' process. Of course. To them. Chekhov remains a mere manufacturer of atmosphere. Each scene is another stage in our discovery of Chekhov's people and Chekhov's situation. The apparent casualness of the encounters and discussions on the stage is Chekhov linking himself to "the least possible number of movements. also in their discovering of themselves and their situation (in so far as they are capable of doing so). while this form does not by any means eliminate narrative and suspense. that is grace". there will be people who see the tininess of the movements and do not notice the enormousness of the forces released—who see the trigger-finger move and do not hear the shot. it reintroduces another equally respectable principle of motion—the progress from ignorance to knowledge. the release of enormous forces by some tiny movement.

which crushed his brain by its overwhelming vulgarity. the high priests of the sacred art. . an indictment which in seventy years has lost none of its force. We must have new formulas. a little tiny moral. when they strive to squeeze out a moral from the flat vulgar pictures and the flat vulgar phrases. appear by electric light. representing how people eat. And if there are none. That's what we want. The (From Drama: From Ibsen to Brecht.RAYMOND WILLIAMS Anton Chekhov I regard the stage of today as mere routine and prejudice. but I do not wish to play the dangerous and tiresome game of identifications. This striking indictment of the naturalist theatre. © 1968 by Raymond Williams. Chekhov perhaps felt very much in this way (although from external evidence his literary position would seem to be more represented in The Seagull by Trigorin than by Treplef). . . then it's better to have nothing at all. when in a thousand variations they offer me always the same thing over and over again—then I take to my heels and run.) . in a room with three sides to it. and wear their jackets. is not. drink. It is a speech which he gives to the young writer Constantine Treplef in The Seagull. love. one had better begin by emphasizing. walk. When the curtain goes up and the gifted beings. as Maupassant ran from the Eiffel Tower. easy to comprehend and handy for home consumption. Chekhov's own.

outburst. S." Chekhov wrote to A. offer problems worth the solving. acclaim his work as "really lifelike and free from any tiresome moralizing". Taken over. . In this connection. will find good and kind friends . you know. as Ibsen said of The Wild Duck: The characters. "is my favourite author". . which has a characteristic late nineteenth-century ring. one might hazard a supplementary remark to the sentence quoted from Chekhov's letter: "The Wild Duck. is my favourite play". and on the "symbolism" which naturalist dramatists have developed. not least among the player-folk. The devotees of Chekhov in the theatres of England. and as a preface to some remarks on the relation of the naturalist drama to fiction.] TREPLEF: I shall soon kill myself in the same way. with a gun and a dead seagull^ TREPLEF: Are you alone? NINA: Yes. to whom they all. and where his beloved Nina is about to pass from his influence to that of the more famous Trigorin: [Enter TREPLEF hatless. with "the high priests of the sacred art". Vishnevsky. . I lay it at your feet. For the buttress of Chekhov's popularity in England has been his popularity with that kind of actor and atmosphere. [TREPLEF lays the bird at her feet. without exception. It is true that in England the public projections of Ibsen and Chekhov are very dissimilar. [She takes up the seagull and looks at it. is better worth quoting as a first step in the analysis of some of Chekhov's plays. I hope. he has even been welcomed. as "naturalism without politics". And this affiliation is a point which the critic can no longer doubt. by a sentimental sect. indeed. you know. Chekhov introduces the seagull in the second act.. . as he has been. has passed even beyond the confines of the work to become the emblem of a new movement in the theatre. at a point where Treplef's play has failed. on the other hand.] NINA: What does that mean? TREPLEF: I have been brute enough to shoot this seagull. astonishingly. "Ibsen. The same is true of The Seagull. where the "symbol". . In Ibsen's The Wild Duck the crucial point for an evaluation of the play is a study of the function of the title-symbol. So acute an Ibsenite as William Archer could see nothing in The Cherry Orchard but empty and formless time-wasting. and imagine Chekhov saying.

yes . I am too simple to understand you. . I am an actress. You express yourself incomprehensibly in what seem to be symbols. . Since this is exactly what Trigorin is going to do to Nina—we are often reminded of this prophecy—the point will doubtless be regarded as subtle. It is an incapacity—this failure to understand the symbol—which. TRIGORIN: What thing? SHAMRAYEF: Constantine shot a seagull one day.. TRIGORIN: Did I? I don't remember.. say—lives from her childhood on the shores of a lake. A subject for a short story... it becomes clear. Trigorin makes the next point: A subject for a short story. She loves the lake like a seagull. No. ruins her. When Nina has been seduced and abandoned by Trigorin she writes regularly to Treplef: TREPLEF: Her imagination was a little disordered. no. like this seagull. and you asked me to have it stuffed for you. A girl—like yourself. just to amuse himself. that's wrong. I am a seagull ." . Yes. Immediately afterwards Nina returns to see Treplef: NINA: . but I'm afraid I don't understand. . It is a subtlety which stops perhaps a little short of the diabolic—at the deadly. and. and is happy and free like a seagull... .. She signed herself "Seagull". I am a seagull. so she said in her letters that she was a seagull. . Do you remember you shot a seagull? "A man comes along by chance and sees her. just to amuse himself. that's wrong. But a man comes along by chance and sees her and ruins her. This seagull seems to be another symbol. In Pushkin's "Rusalka" the miller says he is a raven.NINA: You have grown nervous and irritable lately. And when Trigorin comes on a visit: SHAMRAYEF: We've still got that thing of yours.. . Boris. . the author does not intend the audience to share.

came to hand biographically. I am trying. rather.. although the search for a new dramatic form unceasingly occupied his mind. for seven long years gave up the stage. in The Seagull. with Trigorin still murmuring: I don't remember. At a simple illustrative level it is precise. The symbol. shoots herself. and the centre of emotional pressure. All authors steal (it is only. as we now know. and Chekhov commented on the seagull which his friend Levitan had shot: Another beautiful living creature is gone. ("I am still adrift in a welter of images and dreams. and the general death of freedom which pervades the play. He meditated upon a realistic play in which he could introduce a symbol as a means of communicating to the audience his deeper and inner thoughts. No. but two dumb-bells returned home and had supper. I have been brute enough to shoot this seagull") Now in Ibsen's The Wild Duck Hedvig. Chekhov. I am not attempting to prove plagiarism. In this comparison. The seagull emphasizes. After Ivanov (1887) and The Wood Spirit (1888). to assess the function and validity of the device. when told to shoot the wild duck. and a good trick is always worth playing twice. In The Seagull the story of Nina's seduction and ruin is similarly identified with the bird. I have described it as "inflating the significance of the incidents". This is the frank orthodox description of the form. It is a hint at profundity. In the play the symbol is illustrative. But this very characteristic naturalist device is clearly a substitute for adequate expression of the central experience of the play in language. the stuffed seagull is brought in and placed on the table. . The correspondences. in an industrial society. we are told by Princess Nina Andronikova Toumanova. The function is surely clear. as a visual symbol—a piece of stage property—the action and the atmosphere. In The Wild Duck the bird is also used to define other characters and the whole atmosphere of the play. it seems.. It is a device for emotional pressure. which may seem to beg the question. that this has been reckoned as wrong). which had both failed. and its stuffed resurrection. are established explicitly and . for inflating the significance of the related representational incidents. as we have seen. Similarly. are used to indicate something about Treplef. the bird and its death. She identifies herself with the bird.As she leaves. I don't remember. At this moment Treplef shoots himself.

But if he is seriously concerned with experience. in a predominantly naturalist period. But in one respect. futility. therefore. particularly. to indicate the underlying pattern. without a farming. At any other level. The substance of his play is settled as a representation of everyday life. In The Seagull. Fidelity to the representational method. any serious analysis must put it down as mainly a lyrical gesture. Trigorin. he cannot leave it at this. This weary atmosphere. Here. is faced. in the final attempt to resolve the difficulty. Either one or more of his characters may—for some reason—have an ability to speak out. as they say. a total pattern has to be indicated. who are both writers. So that when these actors and writers in my mother's drawing-room graciously bestowed their attention on me. That is an early play. There is no modern dramatist whose characters are more persistently concerned with explicit self-revelation: the desire and the need to tell the truth about oneself are overpowering. and Treplef. and Chekhov was to go beyond it. Even then the author may not be satisfied. moreover. People dine and at the same time their happiness is made or their lives are broken. it is essentially imprecise. or are indicated by the slightest of commonplace gestures. for since the characters are conceived as absolute.with great care. and according to my passport a Kiev artisan. is introduced such a device as that of the seagull. apathy. to depict their conversation in minor commonplaces. for my father was officially reckoned a Kiev artisan although he was a famous actor. Major human crises are resolved in silence. this relation between what is felt and what can be said is decisive in all his work. with no talents. The Seagull is a very good example of the problem with which the talented dramatist. as "real persons". as the following examples show: TREPLEF: Who am I? What am I? Sent down from the University without a degree through circumstances for which the editor cannot hold himself responsible. it seemed to me that they . and at the symbolic level at which it is commonly assumed to operate. Let us [Chekhov wrote to Suvorin] just be as complex and as simple as life is. delusion. and the qualities which Chekhov saw in everyday life were frustration. Yet this self-revelation can be very different in purpose and effect. compels the author to show people dining. possess this faculty. was characterized by an inability to speak out—an inability of which almost every notable writer in the last seventy years has complained. their statements may be merely personal and idiosyncratic.

but then The Anniversary—a short piece—is a less equivocal play: it is farce without strings.were merely taking the measure of my insignificance. and strong. But then. One's doubts about even the best of Chekhov's plays are doubts about the strings. as soon as possible. I guessed their thoughts and felt the humiliation. is frequently awkward. Shipuchin is a more unequivocal comic figure. or Dostoyevsky. There is also. (The Cherry Orchard) Treplef and Olga are outlining their explicit situation. the device is satiric. Here every detail must imponiren. (Uncle Vanya) OLGA: I'm always having headaches from having to go to the High School every day and then teach till evening. We are evidently not "intended to accept the character's sentimental interpretation of himself". as in The Three Sisters. we have to put the critical question in a different way. This is a Bank. We have to discover the relation between this particular convention—of an explicit self-revelation. In Uncle Vanya. at times awkward and . ANYA: You're at it again. We ought to know the peasants. and have a majestic appearance. a parvenu. they are doing more. as this response becomes clear. Uncle. with Olga and Treplef. And really. at home I can live like a tradesman. . I have been feeling as if every day my strength and youth have been squeezed out of me. brave. But in Gayef. (The Three Sisters) SHIPUCHIN: As I was saying. Strange thoughts come to me. man conversation can ever do. this has become the full sentimentality. their speeches are devices of the author's exposition. (The Seagull) UNCLE VANYA: I am intelligent. drop by drop. we ought to know with what. but here everything must be en grand. or attempting more. but I think I may say that I've suffered for my convictions in my time. as if I were already an old woman. so to speak. and be up to any games I like. . (The Anniversary) GAYEF: I'm a good Liberal. People abuse the eighties. It's not for nothing that the peasants love me. which.. because of the large number of characters he handles. To Moscow. a man of the eighties. . While retaining the manner of conversation.. during these four years mat I have been working here. And only one desire grows and grows in strength. a sentimental vein (with real persons it would be called self-pity) which depends on their explicitness. If I had lived normally I might have become another Schopenhauer. as it is also in Gayef.

he finds not deadlock—the active struggle in which no outcome is possible—but stalemate— the collective recognition. even in defeat and failure. inward-looking—in effect a defeat before the struggle has even begun. and in The Seagull. his difference. against the habits of his group. is that he does not set against these. It was from this point that Chekhov began. by Ibsen. the fixed distortions of an alienated group. Virtually everyone wants change. that is to say. as inevitably entering the consciousness of the man who was struggling: the deadlock with a false society was re-enacted as a deadlock within the self. struggling man. The methods of Ibsen's last plays. an actively liberating individual. The dramatic conventions of liberal struggle had been clear: the isolation of the individual. as it were before the struggle. but to the point where the effort and the resistance. from both Ibsen and Strindberg. As Chekhov explores his world. this deadlock was never merely external: the limiting consciousness of the false society—"we are all ghosts . For that structure. It is not the passionate overt conflict of early Strindberg. And what we then see is an important change. Again. particularly. at other times negotiated as satire or farce—and Chekhov's actual structure of feeling. in the comparison with Ibsen. they are still partly relevant. is not writing about a generation of liberal struggle against false social forms. and when the conventions appropriate to it come suddenly to seem empty. as clearly as Ibsen. In Ivanov this liberal structure is still present: an isolated.. and made it end in suicide. It is the sensibility of a generation which sits up all night talking about the need . Chekhov saw. nor the savage internal inquiry. are related to this internal deadlock. breaking. but at the same time has become hopeless. beyond the surface similarities. that this is so. As we have seen. but about a generation whose whole energy is consumed in the very process of becoming conscious of their own inadequacy and impotence. the frustration and stagnation of the available forms of social life. the vocation and the debt. his contrast with his group. and then an action which took this forward—not to the point of change. but with the odds against him. He attempted the same action. of Strindberg's later world. Chekhov. by Treplev. virtually no-one believes it is possible. But in The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard something new has happened: it is not the liberating individual against the complacent group.sentimental. it is that the desire for liberation has passed into the group as a whole. reached deadlock: the hero died still climbing and struggling. where again a break is being attempted. in his mature work. the dramatic methods of Ibsen were still relevant. and breaking others in his fall. all of us so wretchedly afraid of the light"—was seen. But he came to see this as "theatrical": a significant description of one of those crucial moments when a structure of feeling is changing. which Ibsen could not see happening. there is a crucial difference..

to sit up talking to try to get it clear. in Trophimov and in the others. there will be no . The consequences in method are important. complain of boredom. In The Three Sisters it is the longing to make sense of life. but to reveal it. In its inadequacy and yet its persistence it is heroism of a kind. It is then this feeling—this structure of feeling—that Chekhov sets himself to dramatize. an ambivalent kind. and it is only by suffering that we can redeem it. is an emphasis on redemption. is very powerfully created in The Three Sisters and in The Cherry Orchard. but our sufferings will turn into joy for those who will live after us. a major effort. such a generation can seem comic. and have done with it. When I walk through it in the evening or at night. Characteristically. . . work. this new structure of feeling. First. we only philosophise. only by strenuous unremitting toil. what is believed and what is lived. Inevitably. this last speech is by Trophimov. In neither situation is any real success possible: what happens is not to change the situation. we must first redeem the past. in a stagnant and boring military-provincial society. we have fallen at least two hundred years behind the times. such a man. and is then too tired next morning to do anything at all. even about its own immediate problems. This world. in such a time. or drink vodka. these cannot materialize as events. to have a sense of a future. Well. In The Cherry Orchard it is an attempt to come to terms with the past: to live without owning the orchard and its servants. between what can be said and what can be done. This does not mean that he is wrong. such a situation. and the cherry-trees seem to see all that happened a hundred and two hundred years ago in painful and oppressive dreams. the rugged bark on the trees glows with a dim light. and even how many there were of us. who does practically no work. against what would be simple fantasy (the desire to be in Moscow. they can only be spoken about: They will forget our faces. Characteristically. it is easy to laugh at them and at what Chekhov calls their "neurotic whining". effort. or that what he says can be disregarded: it is the dominant emotion of the play. voices. The counter-movement. It is so plain that before we can live in the present. can be. Your orchard frightens me. to get even the strength to see what is wrong. But there is this precise paradox. we have not made up our minds how we stand with the past.for revolution. We have achieved nothing at all as yet. At the same time. . although they would be the same people there) or simple nostalgia (the desire to have the orchard and yet to be free to go away).

very valuable results. but as it were from outside: what happens within the group is mainly gesture and muddle. economical. The same method achieves. or the like. to the mumbled "and all the rest of it" with which old Sorin ends his every speech in The Seagull. As we come to see that this is what Chekhov is doing. a red nose. in the genuine detail of experience which . always. and inescapably explicit framework of drama the finest structure of incident and phrase. It is. which springs directly from this absence. a very difficult balance. which in fiction are more than their separated selves. outline themselves. has to be conveyed in the tone: a kind of nobility. appears crude. and a kind of farce. It is a poor compromise. left to itself. a wooden leg. nothing was required. as in Ibsen's The Wild Duck. but some bodily defect—a club-foot. now dissociate. The structure is more finely and more delicately constructed than that of any of his contemporaries. if not wholly inarticulate. as before. to achieve. (This is not. there will. in which consciousness has turned inward and become. A gap must be filled. But the method. Chekhov's representation of living action is impressive. inevitably. in his fiction. The point is. of the group and its feelings. be no action: things will happen. are written to be seen. Now certainly. is ultimately fictional. The convention of general description. a very difficult method. of disintegration. "Barkis is willin'". And then the miniatures are left suspended. Nothing is more surprising. there is a sense. the crucial emotion is that of a group. in the Preface to Lady Julie: A character on the stage came to signify a gentleman who was fixed and finished. The characters. comes the unifying pressure of a device of atmosphere. at least unconnecting. a cue for the usual question: are we supposed to laugh or cry at such people and such situations? That is a servile question: we have to decide our response for ourselves. Second. that the characters and situations can be seen. The just comment is Strindberg's. In the bare. so far as possible. to decide on one part of the response or the other is to miss what is being said). which in the novel is essentially a whole structure of feeling. by the way. in both ways. Third. He is attempting to dramatize a social consequence—a common loss—in private and self-regarding feeling. Delineation degenerates to slogan and catchphrase. is very difficult to achieve. in this kind of play. and to the rescue. we are faced with very difficult critical problems. He is attempting to dramatize a stagnant group. have to co-exist. I would say.isolated. contrasting characters. the contradictory character. or the character in question was made to repeat some such phrase as "That's capital". For of such is a "character" built. by the conditions of dramatic presentation.

or everything is trivial. it remains for ever. only intermittently successful. and it is. I am sorry that my youth has gone.Chekhov so finely achieves. implication. my masters. only they will fly . empty. Still. Still. whatever philosophers come to life among them. that separable "personality" is the more contradictory in that what Chekhov is essentially expressing is a common condition. Not only after two or three centuries. Moreover. is there a meaning? A meaning? Now the snow is falling. . Gogol says: life in this world is a dull matter. following its own laws which do not concern us. a condition and an atmosphere created by hesitation. essentially. But where it does succeed. not worth a straw. since the printed convention. . The major example. How can I convince you? Yes. cranes for example. I think. than the appearance—the repeated appearance—of that kind of fixed. To live and not to know why the cranes fly. why babies are born. is the second act of The Cherry Orchard. something very original and in its own way powerful has come into modern drama. Either you must know why you live. separating and assigning the speeches. they will still fly and not know why or where. would express disintegration without weakening the sense of a common condition. A briefer example. paradoxically. Migrant birds. to show disconnection—can be followed): We do not seem to understand each other. life will still be as it was. by the group. Chekhov attempted to develop a new kind of dialogue which. unconnected confession. . They fly and will continue to fly. enter their heads. This is not easy to illustrate. or which. laugh. may allow the method to be seen more clearly (I omit the names of the speakers so that the form of a connected dialogue—connected. they may philsophise as much as they like. why there are stars in the sky. external device of personality. or his life will be empty. at any rate. life does not change. On the other hand. It is this that is missed or weakened when personality declines to an idosyncrasy or a "human vignette". is more complete and powerful than anything else Chekhov wrote. which as a theme for voices. usually breaks it up. from The Three Sisters. you will never find out. but in a million years. An unfamiliar rhythm is developed. paradoxically. as it were inadvertently. and whatever thoughts. or must search for a faith. What meaning? It seems to me that a man must have faith. I think. but. high or low. is not said by any one of the characters. in which what is being said. Such dialogue is very hard to read and to play. fly and fly.

by adding and altering. my masters. when he saw what was being done. this human voice is intermittent and inadvertent. To perform him with any success at all. articulate. such timing. And of course. The die is cast. but. Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko had to find new methods of acting and design: to substitute an altered internal. What happened in the theatre was that another kind of talent—a producer's talent—took over his work and found a way of presenting it. in Chekhov's work. That's worth making a note of. such continuity. as we know from the record. and see them as revealing this or that particular character. inadvertent mood—questioning. it is a common. it is obvious that what is being expressed is not a dealing between persons. at once tentative and self-conscious. but in ways so original and so tentative that it is in constant danger of breaking down. Balzac was married at Berdichev. his scrupulous fineness of detail. influential. in the history of modern drama. as can be seen from Stanislavsky's notes on his production of The Seagull.And I say it's difficult to argue with you. and this is usually accentuated in performance. in performance. superficially miscellaneous and yet deeply preoccupied. is quickly lost. Balzac was married at Berdichev. desiring. an unusual silence has to be imposed. for it shows a writer of genius beginning to create a new dramatic form. to achieve a stageable effect. after seventy years. Hang it all. What Chekhov does then. that the local identifying features. . is very difficult to sustain. But within his conventions. The inherited conventions were either crude and loud. or. and is still. the continuing rhythm. It is the final paradox. But it is no surprise to find Chekhov dissatisfied. It is now seen as the triumph. were only partly relevant to his purposes. where they were refined to express individuality. In his persistent honesty. of the members of his dramatic group. he was presenting problems which could only ever be partially solved. It is a significant moment. As we listen to this. To the degree that we separate the speeches out. if each actor sees himself as acting a separate part. and another kind of art has to be invented to sustain it. What comes through or can come through is a very different voice—the human voice within and beyond the immediate negotiation and self-presentation. I've handed in my resignation. suggestive method for what had been explicit. Balzac was married at Berdichev. defeated. in effect. of the naturalist drama and theatre. is to invent a dramatic form which contradicts most of the available conventions of dramatic production. yet are the constant cues. are truly superficial. It was a major development in the theatre. or a series of self-definitions. but must also be seen as the crisis. presented. if it is ever to be properly heard.

I believe many felt it. an operation not always permissible when the subject is still living. A tendency is absurd when it endeavours to take the place of talent.) . and as everybody knows.' Every artist has his definite task. Mihailovsky alone attempted to approach closer to the source of Chekhov's creation. to which he devotes all his forces. his life's work. Certainly he had a reason for hiding himself. and to cover impotence and lack of content. Of course they knew they were wrong: but anything is better than to extort the truth from a living person. or when it is borrowed from the stock of ideas which (From All Things Are Possible and Penultimate Words and Other Essays. © 1977 by Ohio University Press. and of course the reason was serious and important. Here.LEV SHESTOV Anton Chekhov: {Creation from the Void) Résigne-toi. —Charles Baudelaire Chekhov is dead. therefore we may now speak freely of him. the deceased critic might have convinced himself once again of the extravagance of the so-called theory of 'art for art's sake. For to speak of an artist means to disentangle and reveal the 'tendency' hidden in his works. turned away from it with aversion and even with disgust. by the way. mon coeur. and that it was partly on this account that we have as yet had no proper appreciation of Chekhov. dors ton sommeil de brute. Hitherto in analysing his works the critics have confined themselves to commonplace and cliché.

he felt that the young were right. during all the years of his literary activity. There is the same custom in literature as in Tierra del Fuego.' Such presences we often see made in literature. however. sadly. Mihailovsky felt this. Mihailovsky struggled with all his might. but Mihailovsky no . The young. Much ado about nothing: ready-made ideas will never endow mediocrity with talent. growing men kill and eat the old. In ordinary language what Chekhov was doing is called crime. and his word had been law. Chekhov's talent too was taken to the priest. The reasons are quite intelligible. To define his tendency in a word. but he no longer felt the strength of conviction that comes from the sense of right. And Chekhov had his own business. Inwardly. and the notorious controversy concerning 'art for art's sake' was evidently maintained upon the double meaning given to the word 'tendency' by its opponents. who more than once in his lifetime gave an example of merciless severity. and finally the old master was ostracised. by whom it was evidently rejected as suspect. and the old must of their own will yield themselves up to be devoured by the young. Stubbornly. The rising star shines always brighter than the setting. I would say that Chekhov was the poet of hopelessness. Hitherto it has been little spoken of. he was still like Gretchen's mother in Goethe: he did not take rich gifts from chance without having previously consulted his confessor. on the contrary. True. Some wished to believe that a writer can be saved by the nobility of his tendency. did not raise his hand against Chekhov.' The younger generation began to desire to live and to speak in its own way. that Mihailovsky's own position in literature had more than a little to do with the comparative mildness of his sentence. lies the essence of his creation. But afterwards every one was bored with eternally repeating: "Aristides is just. an original writer will at all costs set himself his own task. and even compared him to a bird. not because they knew the truth—what truth did the economic materialists know?—but because they were young and had their lives before them. The younger generation had listened to him uninterruptedly for thirty years. and is visited by condign punishment. But he went no further. Herein. I hold. But how can a man of talent be punished? Even Mihailovsky. others feared that a tendency would bind them to the performance of alien tasks. Aristides is right.happen to be in demand at the moment. 'I defend ideals. It may be. monotonously. though there were critics who said that he was the servant of art for its own sake. Chekhov's immense talent overcame the strict and rigorous critic. He warned his readers and pointed out the 'evil fire' which he had noticed in Chekhov's eyes. and perhaps it was this which undermined his former assurance and the firmness of his opinion of old. carelessly flying. therefore every one must give me his sympathies. nearly a quarter of a century long. Chekhov was doing one alone: by one means or another he was killing human hopes.

Take Chekhov's stories. II I must remind my reader. though crushed and broken. love.longer had the courage to set himself against public opinion. He is constantly. because there is no such thing as a full biography—I. inspiration. The younger generation prized Chekhov for his talent. his immense talent. Art. yet with his life. to be consoled or to be amused—Chekhov has only to touch them and they instantly wither and die. What remained for Mihailovsky? He attempted. there appeared The Tedious Story and the drama Ivanov. And in this art he was constantly perfecting himself. and it was plain they would not disown him. withered and died before our eyes. as I say. not one of them will escape its fate. a breath. nothing escaped death. as it were. a glance. in ambush. we may speak openly. and he attained to a virtuosity beyond the reach of any of his rivals in European literature. Maupassant often had to strain every effort to overcome his victim. Obviously a sharp and sudden change had taken place in him. and probably will never be. at all events. cannot name one. Only his wonderful art did not die—his art to kill by a mere touch. to warn them. or better still. ideals—choose out all the words with which humanity is wont. If we would know. science. though it is a matter of general knowledge. all together: look at him at work. . when he was only twenty-seven and twenty-eight years old. two pieces of work which laid the foundations of a new creation. Perhaps in the future it will be revealed to us with the fullest details who was Chekhov's tailor. There is no detailed biography of Chekhov. each one separately. and Chekhov became one of the most beloved of Russian writers. which was completely reflected in his works. everything whereby men live and wherein they take their pride. The victim often escaped from Maupassant. He published his work in the comic papers. we must rely upon his works and our own insight. In Chekhov's hands. but we shall never know what happened to Chekhov in the time which elapsed between the completion of his story The Steppe and the appearance of his first drama. But no one listened to him. He will not miss a single one of them. Yet the just Aristides was right this time too. to watch and waylay human hopes. But in 1888 and 1889. Now that Chekhov is no more. as he was right when he gave his warning against Dostoevsky. And Chekhov himself faded. perhaps even like a flying bird. The young Chekhov is gay and careless. that in his earlier work Chekhov is most unlike the Chekhov to whom we became accustomed in late years. Generally biographies tell us everything except what it is important to know. or has been in the past.

Had life been so arranged that death should supervene simultaneously with the loss of health. Here it is. But if the desire is for some reason absent. and therefore cannot be hurt by your neglect. the words 'pathological' and 'abnormal' will have no effect upon you. sanctified by science and every tradition. and he does not know how to fight against it. a 'criminal' whose words frighten even the experienced and the omniscient. A man very often goes on living after he has completely lost the capacity of taking from life that wherein we are wont to see its essence and meaning.' and its brother 'abnormal. for the most part in such cases the intellectual abilities are refined and sharpened and increased to colossal proportions. stupid. you have a perfectly legal right. There comes this nonsensical. The professor had overstrained himself. Instead a morose and overshadowed man. Our language contains two magic words: 'pathological. It frequently happens that an average man. particularly seeing mat he is already dead. unexpected as though it had fallen from the sky. Even a blind man could see that they are both broken and are unfit for life. and the old Chekhov of gaiety and mirth is no more.' Once Chekhov had overstrained himself. Perhaps you will go further and attempt to find in Chekhov's experiences a criterion of the most irrefragable truths and axioms of this consciousness of ours. you can easily be rid of Chekhov and his work as well. to leave him out of all account. a broken man is generally deprived of everything except the ability to acknowledge and feel his position. But the theme of both works is the same. useless person. and thereby cut himself off from his past life and from the possibility of taking an active part in human affairs. There is no third way: you must either renounce Chekhov. In them almost every line is a sob. If you desire it. I do not believe we shall be mistaken if we apply this comparison to the author of the drama as well. That is if you desire to be rid of Chekhov. More striking still. strength and capacity. or become his accomplice. banal and mediocre. And the overstrain came not from hard and heavy labour. The hero of The Tedious Story is an old professor. wise nature has rejected coincidence of this kind. There can be practically no doubt that Chekhov had overstrained himself. no mighty overpowering exploit broke him: he stumbled and fell. all but invisible accident.Ivanov and The Tedious Story seem to me the most autobiographical of all his works. Ivanov also had overstrained himself and become a superfluous. And it is plain that his grief is a new one. the hero of Ivanov a young landlord. looking only at another's grief. is changed beyond all recognition . he slipped. it will endure for ever. No more stories for The Alarm Clock. then me old professor and young Ivanov could not have lived for one single hour. and it is hard to suppose that a man could sob so. Nay. In Ivanov the hero compares himself to an overstrained labourer. But for reasons unknown to us.

Hardly had the cold wind of tragedy blown upon him. When Tolstoy wrote The Death of Ivan Ilych. literature has accumulated a large and varied store of all kinds of general ideas and conceptions. and no Tedious Story. but Tolstoy answered for him in The Death of Ivan Ilych. will you . The story of Ivan Ilych in his last days is as deeply interesting as the life-story of Socrates or Pascal. caring exclusively for the calm and pleasantness of earthly existence. In him appear signs of a gift. Had Tolstoy not paved the way. nor many others of Chekhov's most remarkable works. any escape?' What can be said in answer to the endless complaints of the old professor and Katy. I think that had there been no Death of Ivan Ilych. material and metaphysical to which the masters have recourse the moment the over-exacting and over-restless human voice begins to be heard. one of those men who pass through life avoiding anything that is difficult or problematical. whose literary baggage amounted in all to a few dozen tiny stories. something to be said. is a mediocre. 'Why does he write his horrible stories and plays?' everyone asked himself. In his work Chekhov was influenced by Tolstoy. This is exactly the point. a writer and an educated man. even though it took the form of stories. that in literature it was permitted to tell the truth. In passing I would point out a fact which I consider of great importance. Anna Karenina. than he was utterly transformed. essentially. then perhaps Chekhov would have had to struggle long with himself before finding the courage of a public confession. And even with Tolstoy before him. refused in advance every possible consolation. But a young writer would hardly dare to come forward at his own risk with the thoughts that make the content of The Tedious Story. material or metaphysical. But Chekhov was a young man. he had behind him War and Peace. Not even in Tolstoy. how terribly did Chekhov have to struggle with public opinion. and the firmly established reputation of an artist of the highest rank. his pupil? This means that there is. it is evident from Tolstoy's description of his life. From times immemorial. hidden in the pages of little known and uninfluential papers.when he falls into the exceptional situation of Ivanov or the old professor. Ivan Ilych. even of genius. because thus a part of Chekhov's 'guilt' falls upon the great writer of the Russian land. there would have been no Ivanov. had Tolstoy not shown by his example. All things were permitted to him. a talent. But this by no means implies that Chekhov borrowed a single word from his great predecessor. and particularly by Tolstoy's later writings. Chekhov himself. and cannot possibly be. Nietzsche once asked: 'Can an ass be tragical?' He left his question unanswered. who set no great store by philosophical systems. to tell everything. 'Why does the writer systematically choose for his heroes situations from which there is not. average character. It is important. Chekhov had enough material of his own: in that respect he needed no help.

above all among writers. But not only is the struggle unavailing. I would here point to his comedy. Finally. wear their fingers to the bone in the effort to be unlike others. and loses even the notion of connection between the happenings of life. in spite of his own reason and his conscious will. it seems at times that one has before one a copy of a newspaper with an endless series of news paragraphs. Under such conditions "action" is impossible. mysterious obstinacy they refuse all the accepted means of salvation. is the source of his most bitter experiences. the old . without order and without previous plan. and. I repeat. but naked accident. ostentatiously nude. Herein lies the most important and original characteristic of his creation. without exception. III 'A man cannot reconcile himself to the accomplished fact: neither can he refuse so to reconcile himself: and there is no third course. heaped upon one another. He did not want to be original: he made superhuman efforts to be like everybody else: but there is no escaping one's destiny. In this. And he does struggle with all his strength against this defect. since men avoid labour and suffering. this time boldly throwing the gauntlet to all conceptions. The newest and boldest idea may and often does appear tedious and vulgar. He is well aware that conceptions ought to be esteemed and respected. where. is Chekhov's greatest originality. but he might say the same of them all. Nicolai Stepanovich. he frees himself entirely from ideas of every kind. With strange. The Sea-Gull. in defiance of all literary principles. the longer Chekhov lives. Anticipating a little. the basis of action appears to be not the logical development of passions. In order to become original. the really new is for the most part born in man against his will. How many men. strangely enough. the weaker grows the power of lofty words over him. As one reads the play. The author takes care to put them in such a situation that only one thing is left for them. Sovereign accident reigns everywhere and in everything.find such keenly expressed disgust for every kind of conceptions and ideas as in Chekhov. instead of inventing an idea.' So Chekhov speaks of one of his heroes.—to fall down and beat their heads against the floor. nor the inevitable connection between cause and effect. He can only fall down and weep and beat his head against the floor. and this. and yet they cannot shake themselves free of cliché—yet Chekhov was original against his will! Evidently originality does not depend upon the readiness to proclaim revolutionary opinions at all costs. and he reckons his inability to bend the knee before that which educated people consider holy as a defect against which he must struggle with all his strength. one must achieve a difficult and painful labour.

. I pardoned every one right and left. If people do arouse any feelings at all within him. I'm exasperated. Day and night evil thoughts roam about in my head. It means that my new thoughts are abnormal and unhealthy. his wife and children. to be a king. Which is better. malicious 'toad. now he cannot do it even for a quarter of an hour. and useful. he feels mat he is become a criminal. I was compassionate. and with how great joy he would have . He used to have friends and comrades. Now everything which he sees or thinks only serves to poison.professor in The Tedious Story. He was once an eminent scholar: now he cannot work. I hate and despise. I've become strict beyond measure. and you can see that he was always right and ready at any moment of the day or the night to answer the severest judge who should examine not only his actions. and afraid. unkind and suspicious. in himself and others. then they are only feelings of hatred. But now I am king no more. . . He confesses openly that he is all compact of envy and hatred. that I must be ashamed of them and consider them valueless. exacting. envious. . where could the change come from? Has the world grown worse and I better. he condemns himself. necessary. having committed no crime. disturbed. What does it all mean? If my new thoughts and feelings come from a change of my convictions. . But memories only irritate him. Once he was able to hold the attention of his audience for two hours on end. He tells you of his past. I never judged. All that he was engaged in before was good.' as he calls himself elsewhere? There is no denying the originality of the question. and feelings which I never knew before have made their home in my soul. now he cannot concern himself with anyone. possessed by all clever and normal men. In the words above you feel the price which Chekhov had to pay for his originality. . 'The best and most sacred right of kings. Now not only would an outsider condemn him. And I have always felt myself a king so long as I used this right prodigally. or an old. . .' he says. malice and envy. but his thoughts as well. With a certainty which he never attained on the best days and hours of his old theoretical research. . He has to confess it to himself with the truthfulness which came to him—he knows not why nor whence in place of the old diplomatic skill. whereby he saw and said only that which makes for decent human relations and healthy states of mind. the few joys which adorn human life.' The question is asked by the old professor on the point of death. There's something going on in me which belongs only to slaves. 'is the right to pardon. and in his person by Chekhov himself. might have attempted to forget himself for a while or to console himself with memories of the past. or was I blind and indifferent before? But if the change is due to the general decline of my physical and mental powers—I am sick and losing weight every day—then I am in a pitiable position. he used to love his pupils and assistants.

exchanged all his original thoughts—at the moment when his 'new' point of view had become clear to him—for the most ordinary, banal capacity for benevolence. He has no doubt felt that his way of thinking is pitiable, shameful and disgusting. His moods revolt him no less than his appearance, which he describes in the following lines: ' . . . I am a man of sixty-two, with a bald head, false teeth and an incurable tic. My name is as brilliant and prepossessing, as I myself am dull and ugly. My head and hands tremble from weakness; my neck, like that of one of Turgenev's heroines, resembles the handle of a counter-bass; my chest is hollow and my back narrow. When I speak or read my mouth twists, and when I smile my whole face is covered with senile, deathly wrinkles.' Unpleasant face, unpleasant moods! Let the most sweet nature and compassionate person but give a side-glance at such a monster, and despite himself a cruel thought would awaken in him: that he should lose no time in killing, in utterly destroying this pitiful and disgusting vermin, or if the laws forbid recourse to such strong measures, at least in hiding him as far as possible from human eyes, in some prison or hospital or asylum. These are measures of suppression sanctioned, I believe, not only by legislation, but by eternal morality as well. But here you encounter resistance of a particular kind. Physical strength to struggle with the warders, executioners, attendants, moralists—the old professor has none; a little child could knock him down. Persuasion and prayer, he knows well, will avail him nothing. So he strikes out in despair: he begins to cry over all the world in a terrible, wild, heartrending voice about some rights of his: '. . . I have a passionate and hysterical desire to stretch out my hands and moan aloud. I want to cry out that fate has doomed me, a famous man, to death; that in some six months here in the auditorium another will be master. I want to cry out that I am poisoned; that new ideas that I did not know before have poisoned the last days of my life, and sting my brain incessantly like mosquitoes. At that moment my position seems so terrible to me that I want all my students to be terrified, to jump from their seats and rush panic-stricken to the door, shrieking in despair.' The professor's arguments will hardly move any one. Indeed I do not know if there is any argument in those words. But this awful, inhuman moan. . . . Imagine the picture: a bald, ugly old man, with trembling hands, and twisted mouth, and skinny neck, eyes mad with fear, wallowing like a beast on the ground and wailing, wailing, wailing. . . . What does he want? He had lived a long and interesting life; now he had only to round it off nicely, with all possible calm, quietly and solemnly to take leave of this earthly existence. Instead he rends himself, and flings himself about, calls almost the whole universe to judgment, and clutches convulsively at the few days left to him. And Chekhov—what did Chekhov do? Instead of passing by on the other side, he supports the prodigious monster, devotes

pages and pages to the 'experiences of his soul,' and gradually brings the reader to a point at which, instead of a natural and lawful sense of indignation, unprofitable and dangerous sympathies for the decomposing, decaying creature are awakened in his heart. But every one knows that it is impossible to help the professor; and if it is impossible to help, then it follows we must forget. That is as plain as a b  What use or what meaning could there be in the endless picturing—daubing, as Tolstoy would say—of the intolerable pains of the agony which inevitably leads to death? If the professor's 'new' thoughts and feelings shone bright with beauty, nobility or heroism, the case would be different. The reader could learn something from it. But Chekhov's story shows that these qualities belonged to his hero's old thoughts. Now that his illness has begun, there has sprung up within him a revulsion from everything which even remotely resembles a lofty feeling. When his pupil Katy turns to him for advice what she should do, the famous scholar, the friend of Pirogov, Kavelin and Nekrassov, who had taught so many generations of young men, does not know what to answer. Absurdly he chooses from his memory a whole series of pleasant-sounding words; but they have lost all meaning for him. What answer shall he give? he asks himself. 'It is easy to say, Work, or divide your property among the poor, or know yourself, and because it is easy, I do not know what to answer.' Katy, still young, healthy and beautiful, has by Chekhov's offices fallen like the professor into a trap from which no human power can deliver her. From the moment that she knew hopelessness, she had won all the author's sympathy. While a person is settled to some work, while he has a future of some kind before him, Chekhov is utterly indifferent to him. If he does describe him, then he usually does it hastily and in a tone of scornful irony. But when he is entangled, and so entangled that he cannot be disentangled by any means, then Chekhov begins to wake up. Colour, energy, creative force, inspiration make their appearance. Therein perhaps lies the secret of his political indifferentism. Notwithstanding all his distrust of projects for a brighter future, Chekhov like Dostoevsky was evidently not wholly convinced that social reforms and social science were important. However difficult the social question may be, still it may be solved. Some day, perhaps people will so arrange themselves on the earth as to live and die without suffering: further than that ideal humanity cannot go. Perhaps the authors of stout volumes on Progress do guess and foresee something. But just for that reason their work is alien to Chekhov. At first by instinct, then consciously, he was attracted to problems which are by essence insoluble like that presented in The Tedious Story: there you have helplessness, sickness, the prospect of inevitable death, and no hope whatever to change the situation by a hair. This infatuation, whether conscious or instinctive, clearly runs

counter to the demands of common sense and normal will. But there is nothing else to expect from Chekhov, an overstrained man. Every one knows, or has heard, of hopelessness. On every side, before our very eyes, are happening terrible and intolerable tragedies, and if every doomed man were to raise such an awful alarm about his destruction as Nicolai Stepanovich, life would become an inferno; Nicolai Stepanovich must not cry his sufferings aloud over the world, but be careful to trouble people as little as possible. And Chekhov should have assisted this reputable endeavour by every means in his power. As though there were not thousands of tedious stories in the world—they cannot be counted! And above all stories of the kind that Chekhov tells should be hidden with special care from human eyes. We have here to do with the decomposition of a living organism. What should we say to a man who would prevent corpses from being buried, and would dig decaying bodies from the grave, even though it were on the ground, or rather on the pretext, that they were the bodies of his intimate friends, even famous men of reputation and genius? Such an occupation would rouse in a normal and healthy mind nothing but disgust and terror. Once upon a time, according to popular superstition, sorcerers, necromancers and wizards kept company with the dead, and found a certain pleasure or even a real satisfaction in that ghastly occupation. But they generally hid themselves away from mankind in forests and caves, or betook themselves to deserts where they might in isolation surrender themselves to their unnatural inclinations; and if their deeds were eventually brought to light, healthy men requited them with the stake, the gallows, and the rack. The worst kind of that which is called evil, as a rule, had for its source and origin an interest and taste for carrion. Man forgave every crime—cruelty, violence, murder; but he never forgave the unmotived love of death and the seeking of its secret. In this matter modern times, being free from prejudices, have advanced little from the Middle Ages. Perhaps the only difference is that we, engaged in practical affairs, have lost the natural flair for good and evil. Theoretically we are even convinced that in our time there are not and cannot be wizards and necromancers. Our confidence and carelessness in this reached such a point, that almost everybody saw even in Dostoevsky only an artist and a publicist, and seriously discussed with him whether the Russian peasant needed to be flogged and whether we ought to lay hands on Constantinople. Mihailovsky alone vaguely conjectured what it all might be when he called the author of The Brothers Karamazov a 'treasure-digger.' I say he 'dimly conjectured' because I think that the deceased critic made the remark partly in allegory, even in joke. But none of Dostoevsky's other critics made, even by accident, a truer slip of the pen. Chekhov, too, was a 'treasure-digger,' a sorcerer, a necromancer, an adept in the black art; and

this explains his singular infatuation for death, decay and hopelessness. Chekhov was not of course the only writer to make death the subject of his works. But not the theme is important but the manner of its treatment. Chekhov understands that, 'In all the thoughts, feelings, and ideas,' he says, '[which] I form about anything, there is wanting the something universal which could bind all these together in one whole. Each feeling and each thought lives detached in me, and in all my opinions about science, the theatre, literature, and my pupils, and in all the little pictures which my imagination paints, not even the most cunning analyst will discover what is called the general idea, or the god of the living man. And if this is not there, then nothing is there. In poverty such as this, a serious infirmity, fear of death, influence of circumstances and people would have been enough to overthrow and shatter all that I formerly considered as my conception of the world, and all wherein I saw the meaning and joy of my life. . . .' In these words one of the 'newest' of Chekhov's ideas finds expression, one by which the whole of his subsequent creation is defined. It is expressed in a modest, apologetic form: a man confesses that he is unable to subordinate his thoughts to a higher idea, and in that inability he sees his weakness. This was enough to avert from him to some extent the thunders of criticism and the judgment of public opinion. We readily forgive the repentant sinner! But it is an unprofitable clemency: to expiate one's guilt, it is not enough to confess it. What was the good of Chekhov's putting on sackcloth and ashes and publicly confessing his guilt, if he was inwardly unchanged? If, while his words acknowledged the general idea as god (without a capital, indeed), he did nothing whatever for it? In words he burns incense to god, in deed he curses him. Before his disease a conception of the world brought him happiness, now it had shattered into fragments. Is it not natural to ask whether the conception actually did ever bring him happiness? Perhaps the happiness had its own independent origin, and the conception was invited only as a general to a wedding, for outward show, and never played any essential part. Chekhov tells us circumstantially what joys the professor found in his scientific work, his lectures to the students, his family, and in a good dinner. In all these were present together the conception of the world and the idea, and they did not take away from, but as it were embellished life; so that it seemed that he was working for the ideal, as well as creating a family and dining. But now, when for the same ideal's sake he has to remain inactive, to suffer, to remain awake of nights, to swallow with effort food that has become loathsome to him—the conception of the world is shattered into fragments! And it amounts to this, that a conception with a dinner is right, and a dinner without a conception equally right—this needs no argument—and a conception an und fur sich is of no value whatever. Here is the essence of the words

A conception makes demands. and secondly. that was because he was very cautious. Moreover. Chekhov plagues. conceptions and ideas. however painful that difficult operation may be. If his punishment was comparatively slight. because the most conspicuous representatives of literature have hitherto been convinced that ideas have a magical power. but Chekhov the idea. and merciless hatred. because to talent much is forgiven. The voice of .' This attitude towards 'conceptions' becomes second nature with Chekhov. in essence declares that he finds it impossible to acknowledge the power of the 'idea' over himself. expressing his 'new' thoughts.' such is the only answer which Chekhov finds in his soul to all demands for a 'conception. Exactly like a splinter stuck into a living body.quoted from Chekhov. It seems to him that he alone of all men is so weak and insignificant. . . the sacred mission of man. tortures and worries himself in every possible way. He cannot free himself at one single stroke from the power of ideas: therefore he begins a long. these innocent things do not merit any other attitude—in Chekhov become the objects of bitter. And so it is surely. that the others . In The Tedious Story the idea still judges the man and tortures him with the mercilessness peculiar to all things inanimate. slow and stubborn war. the idea. until at length the man firmly resolves to draw the splinter out of his flesh. The whole history and the separate episodes of his struggle are of absorbing interest. if we may believe what people write in books. inexorable. There not the idea persecutes Chekhov. What are the majority of writers doing but constructing conceptions of the world—and believing that they are engaged in a work of extraordinary importance and sanctity? Chekhov offended very many literary men. alien and hostile. IV The content of The Tedious Story thus reduces to the fact that the professor. against the tyrant who had enslaved him. 'God be my judge. and with the subdest division and contempt. they need only ideals and conceptions. and waged war with the air of bringing tribute to the enemy. towards which a great many people behave quite carelessly—after all. I haven't courage enough to act according to my conscience. He confesses with horror the presence within him of that 'new' idea. the justice of the demands meets with less and less acknowledgment from him. In Ivanov the rôle of the idea is already changed. but he can alter nothing. nay worse. mercilessly performs its high mission. a man acknowledges the justice of these demands and methodically satisfies none of them. and in the service whereof they see the mission. I would call it a guerrilla war. or conscientiously to fulfill that which men consider the supreme purpose. well.

' to the dark. even though he be a metaphysician of the extremest ethereal brand.' . and it would seem that now I ought to be mainly occupied with questions of the darkness beyond the grave. the utter impossibility of any action whatsoever. Out of iron. were he asked. Perhaps nature is much more economical and wise than our wisdom. But Chekhov's heroes. useful and noxious. Does this mean that nature contradicts herself. clear consciousness which beforehand determines the beyond. a lance or a sickle. and one of extraordinary moment. Is scientific philosophy indignant? Is Chekhov undermining its surest foundations? But he is an overstrained. Yet nature often deprives man of ready material. The idea of creating out of a void hardly even enters his mind. But he prefers to remain without an answer. the struggle still continues. 'I know quite well I have no more than six months to live. he destroys only to build up from the old material once more. abnormal man.the living nature rises above the artificial habits of civilisation. helplessness. or that she perverts her creatures? Is it not more correct to admit that the conception of perversion is of purely human origin. and the visions which will visit my sleep in the earth. vague aspiration which Chekhov by instinct trusts more than the bright. if you will.' In contrast to the habits of the past. they do not die. A normal person. with alternating fortunes. while its rights are handed over to the 'soul. but once you have decided to do so then you must be prepared for anything. good and bad. And yet they live on. which he finds in nature ready to his hand. True. though my mind grants every atom of their importance. But the old humility is no more. he is content to confine himself to the modest part of a seeker after forms. Before them always lies hopelessness. are faced with this abnormal and dreadful necessity. A strange question. Certainly you are not bound to listen to him. More and more Chekhov emancipates himself from old prejudices and goes—he himself could hardly say whither. while at the same time she demands imperatively that he should create. now that he stands before the fatal pale which divides man from the eternal mystery. persons abnormal par excellence. rather than to accept any of the traditional answers. and maybe we should discover much more if instead of dividing people into necessary and superfluous. reason is once more pushed out of the door with all due respect. This is the reason why material never fails him. I said that it was foreign to human nature to create out of a void. always adjusts his theories to the requirements of the moment. we suppressed the tendency to subjective valuation in ourselves and endeavoured with greater confidence to accept her creations? Otherwise you come immediately to 'the evil gleam. he forges a sword or a plough. But somehow my soul is not curious of these questions. long since noted and formulated by the wise. Obedient to the fundamental law of human nature. here suggests itself.

that is to praise his past. and he turns from you with impatience. All Chekhov's heroes fear the light. pity his present. They are lonely. And it always so happened that good was not afraid of the light of day. Nor could it have been otherwise. many nations have lived and died upon the earth. All things are taken from them: they must create everything anew. and then. I have already said. The world has many centuries to its reckoning. Together with Ivanov's death he should portray a bright young life. Thence most probably is derived the unconcealed contempt with which they behave to the most precious products of common human creativeness. They are ashamed of their hopelessness. Chekhov is an extremely cautious writer. to invite the general idea to the funeral. is a dead man. openly rebels against it and jeers at it. He fears and takes into account public opinion. They go somewhere. or that red cheeks and curly hair should vanish from the earth. the dispute between good and evil was never hushed. I hardly dare hope that this consideration will appear convincing to those who are used to maintaining the norm: and it is probably unnecessary that the notion of the great opposition of good and bad which is alive among men should die away. yet as far as we know from the books and traditions that have survived to us. At any rate it is impossible. he at any rate preserves the tone and attitude of outward obedience. Ivanov. Later he throws aside all precautions. and the wicked always stood alone. social life. In Ivanov it already is sufficiently expressed. but they call to no one to follow. On whatever subject you begin to talk with a Chekhov hero he has one reply to everything: Nobody can teach me anything. and good men lived a united. full of promise. and often with rudeness. in order to mitigate the cheerless impression produced by death. and instead of reproaching himself for his inability to submit to the general idea. You offer him a new conception of the world: already in your very first words he feels that they all reduce to an attempt to lay the old bricks and stones over again. He might recall the universal problems of humanity in any one of the many stereotyped forms. perhaps even forward.' sorcery and black magic—and a wall is raised between men which neither logical argument nor even a battery of artillery can break down. and thus the difficult case which seemed insoluble would be removed. Chekhov . and they know that men cannot help them. and the impression of death and destruction would lose all its sting and bitterness. The only thing the artist can do with him is to bury him decently. just as it is unnecessary that children should be born with the experience of men. while evil hid itself in darkness. In The Tedious Story.'treasure-digging. Yet how unconcealed is the aversion he displays to accepted ideas and conceptions of the world. there was reason for the outburst of indignation which this play provoked in its day.

. he ostentatiously makes the good-for-nothing wreck Ivanov the centre of all events. . as all philosophical systems and many works of art had done. Don't you marry a Jewess. and the idea is also given her representatives. as though acting on a previous agreement. who is accustomed to think mat every kingdom may fall and perish. but where Ivanovs and hopelessness reign there is not and cannot be room for the idea. or a blue-stocking. seeks to restore rights that have been trodden underfoot. And the idea? It is enough to recall the figure of Doctor Lvov alone. and healthier. He champions the wronged. the representative of the all-powerful. not only does not save her lover. Choose something ordinary. threats. greyish. whom Chekhov entrusted with the responsible rôle of a representative of the all-powerful idea. vie with each other in their haste to interrupt him in the most insulting way. by jests. . Has he stepped beyond the limits of his plenipotentiary powers? Of course not. don't fight thousands single-handed. don't tilt at windmills. sovereign idea feels that his sovereign's majesty is injured. Make it a principle to build your life of clichés. 'I have the right to give you advice. and do the tiny little work set you by God. but herself perishes under the burden of the impossible task. not at a chance corner. honester. and you will at once perceive that he considers himself not as subject and vassal. yet the kingdom of the idea stands firm in saecula saeculorum. They cannot possibly live together. a wonderful and charming girl. .does just the opposite. and to obey in silent resignation? This . or an abnormal. Instead of endowing youth and ideals with power over destruction and death. But the doctor fulfils his duties as a representative of the great power with no less skill and conscientiousness than his predecessors—Starodoum and the other reputable heroes of the old drama. but as the bitterest enemy of the idea. Side by side with Ivanov there are young lives. broken. behold a spectacle unheard of: the idea dethroned by a helpless. Shut yourself tight in your own shell. and almost by smacks in the face. don't run your head against the wall. Surely Ivanov was a vassal. God save you from all kinds of Back-to-the-Landers' advanced doctrines. It's cosier. and so he must remain. But the young Sasha. sets himself dead against injustice. that to suffer such an offence really means to abdicate the throne. who falls utterly in love with the broken hero. passionate speeches. How dare he let his tongue advise. .' Doctor Lvov. . the better. The moment Doctor Lvov opens his mouth. how dare he raise his voice when it is his part to listen reverently. And the eyes of the reader. The more grey and monotonous the background. good-for-nothing man! What is there that Ivanov does not say? In the very first act he fires off a tremendous tirade. all the characters. without any bright colours or superfluous shades. My dear man. but at the incarnate idea—Starodoum-Lvov.

and demands of this kind. Chekhov was only fighting against the ideas. if we may believe Chekhov. The story.' not even the ideal of 'everyday life' which Tolstoy glorified with such inimitable and incomparable mastery in his early works. Their virtue is departed.' Chekhov had no 'ideal. trembling voice he mutters the accustomed words. But it is no longer a secret to any one. which but lately had invincible power. The teacher lives entirely by Ivanov's prescription. roused in Chekhov all that force off disgust and repulsion of which he alone was capable. . pitiless. but all this does not prevent Chekhov from driving the poor teacher by slow degrees into the usual trap. on her way to render worship to him. if you like. Ivanov is the spirit of destruction. yet still. . The Teacher of Literature. and beat his head against the floor. An ideal presupposes rank rebellion! Lvov attempts to draw himself up to his full height and answer the arrogant rebel with dignity. the voluntary denial of one's own right to independence. with his own peculiar right. yet even then he had to break it off without reaching the end. rude. freedom and power. . He has his job and his wife—neither Jewess nor abnormal.' which the doctor tears out of himself with a painful effort and hurls at him. and he said to it the most abusive thing that entered his head. saw his ideal in the everyday arrangement of life. Chekhov could describe everyday life with equal venom. a creature of youth and insight and talent. to others inconceivable. The whole play is based on that. violent. ... like the Tolstoy of the War and Peace period. Whatever mean and ugly things Ivanov may have done— Chekhov is not close-fisted in this matter: in his hero's conduct-book are written all manner of offences. all the time telling the unfinished story. and that may. even a hint of such demands. almost to the deliberate murder of a woman devoted to him—it is to him and not to Lvov that public opinion bows. incontestable. It would show small understanding of Chekhov to take it into one's head to interpret Ivanov's words to Lvov as meaning that Chekhov. Ivanov in the end shoots himself. He is somehow right. does not stick to him. give you a formal ground for believing that the final victory remained with Lvov. And Chekhov did well to end the drama in this way—it could not be spun out to infinity. Nothing comes of it. For what can be more insulting to the idea than to be forced to listen to the praise of everyday life? But when the opportunity came his way. passes by the honest Starodoum-Lvov unheeding. may serve as an example. nor blue-stocking—and a home that fits like a shell. sticking at nothing: yet the word 'scoundrel. But they do not produce their customary effect. In a weak. Sasha. Whither? Lvov dares not own it even to himself. . Chekhov went on writing for fifteen years after. and bringing him to a condition wherein it is left to him only 'to fall down and weep. It would have been no easy matter to tell the whole of Ivanov's history. It is true.

It is not surprising that such a man should be intolerable to his neighbours. he would probably be unable to answer. He himself is aware of it. She throws her head back. Everywhere he brings death and destruction with him. out of breath and trembling all over her body. her hat falls from her head and dangles by its string. growing pale and pressing her hands to her breast. overstrained and bereft of all hope—has come to Kharkov to seek his advice. but like himself. And this 'creation out of the void. He has absolutely no action left for him in life. Above all he is attracted to fresh. because he was continually so engaged. wrings her hands. untouched beings." '"But tell me. I can't go on like this any longer. or more properly.. young. Creation out of the void! Is not this task beyond the limit of human powers.. The hope is vain.' or more truly the possibility of this creation. and at the end Chekhov's hero is left to himself alone. all-conquering. save to beat his head against the stones. . The following conversation takes place: '"Nicolai Stepanich!" she says. For God's sake tell me now. with their help he hopes to recover his right to life which he has lost. the only hero of Chekhov. of human rights} Mihailovsky obviously had one straight answer to the question." she continues. he must create everything for himself. stamps with her feet. I haven't the strength. a fire which Mihailovsky did not call 'evil' in vain.V Thus the real. one may say that the people who answer the question without hesitation in either sense have never come near to it or to any of the so-called ultimate questions of life. Without fear of mistake. but he has not the power to go apart from men. He has nothing. What shall I do? Tell me. The beginning of decay always appears. for all her youth. although he was continually engaged in the activity. With all his soul he endeavours to tear himself out of his horrible condition. immediately. "I swear to you. "Nicolai Stepanich! I can't go on like this any longer. a strange fire lights in his burnt-out eyes. what shall I do?" '"What can I say? I am beaten. her hair is loosened. if the question were put to him in such a deliberately definite form. How Chekhov's hand trembled while he wrote the concluding lines of his Tedious Story! The professor's pupil—the being nearest and dearest to him. I implore you. I can say nothing. As for Chekhov himself. . is the hopeless man. when nothing is left for him but to beat his head against the wall." 'She drops into a chair and begins to sob. Chekhov begins to feel something like satisfaction. is the only problem which can occupy and inspire Chekhov. When he has stripped his hero of the last shred. Hesitation is a necessary and integral element in the judgment of those men whom Fate has brought near to false problems.

I escort her to the door in silence. Katy." she sobs." she weeps and stretches out her hands to me. She knows that my eyes are following her. intimacy. Both felt that nothing remained save to beat their heads against the wall. her steps were stilled. . to the wild incongruity of the new conditions of Katy's life and his own. '"Let's have some breakfast. . her hand is cold and like a stranger's . without looking back. a teacher all his life. . Therein each acts at his own peril. neither can he himself continue to endure his disgusting and shameful helplessness." 'I am bewildered and surprised." I say with a constrained smile. . She did not even turn round towards him as she went away. and there can be no dreaming of a consoling union of souls. Katy. . and you've lived long! You were a teacher. .. . I do not know. stirred by her sobbing. they can between them find no way."' But the professor has not the word to give. and probably on the landing she will look back. Tell me what to do. Kharkov and other indifferent matters." '"There's nothing that I can say to you. 'Instantly I add in a sinking voice: "I shall be dead soon. She goes out of my room and walks down the long passage. "What shall I do? . The black dress showed for the last time. Katy can live thus no longer. It would have been better to have asked no question. '"So it means you won't be at my funeral?" But she does not look at me. rule. . Katy gets up and holds out her hand to him. and I can hardly stand upright. But now. after such a meeting they can suffer each other no longer. her fosterVfather. or suggestion.' To his 'I shall soon be dead' she answers with wild sobbing. in all his great experience of the past... . Good-bye..' There is not. even in the smallest degree." '"Upon my conscience. seizing my hand and kissing it. . No. only one word.' he concludes his story. He turns the conversation to the weather. You're wise and learned. In their old life talk would bring them relief and frank confession. without looking at him. "I can't bear it any more." I say. my only friend. Katy leaves the old professor. she did not look back. not to have begun that frank conversation of souls. in the knowledge that he has become a stranger to her. a single method. To her question: 'What shall I do?' he replied: 'I shall soon be dead. with their whole hearts desire to support each other. can give to Katy's question is. my treasure! . . Katy." '"Only one word." she implores. which might apply. 'I want to ask her. 'I don't know.'"Help me. '"Help me. "You're my father. But they do not yet understand that. educated. her true father and friend. old and young. long-lived Nicolai Stepanovich. help. Katy. They both. wringing her hands and absurdly repeating the same words over and over again.' The only answer which the wise.

let them thieve. but his answer is words instead of deeds. In the mental ward reigns a porter who is a discharged soldier: he punches his restless patients into shape. and told him so. which he represented to himself as the ideal of human happiness. By the intrigues of his colleague. by continually avoiding life and people. are described with wonderful talent. Nothing in particular has occurred in the doctor's life. beginning with his hospital. the doctor. The lunatic does not agree. The doctor does not care. Indeed. 6. He happened to come to an out-of-the way place in the provinces. The patient is still under the porter's thumb as he used to be. He is indifferent to everything. shut up in a wing . So far everything is more or less in the Chekhov style. Some of his critics also knew. as in the thoughts of many lunatics. But the end is completely different. the whole setting of the hospital and the doctor's rooms. Apparently there is no force which may tear one from its power. and gradually. where under the reign of the drunken brute of an assistant the patients are swindled and neglected. In this story the hero of the drama is the same familiar Chekhov character. the doctor. is quite the usual one. he reached a condition of utter will-lessness. where he can hardly ever be found. I cannot venture to say what was the cause—whether fear of public opinion. there is so little nonsense that from the conversation you would hardly imagine that you have to do with a lunatic. though changed to a slight extent. or both together—but evidently there came a moment to Chekhov when he decided at all costs to surrender his position and retreat. let them fight. and the porter gives him a thrashing on the least provocation. The doctor is delighted with his new friend. The patient. He listens quietly to him. and does not understand what is going on before his very eyes. let them be brutal—what does it matter! Evidently it is so predestined by the supreme council of nature. He is deprived of freedom. presents objections. or his horror at his own discoveries. He happens to enter his ward and to have a conversation with one of his patients. but does nothing whatsoever to make him more comfortable. Everything induces you to make absolutely no resistance and to become fatalistically indifferent:—let them get drunk. becomes impertinent. nonsensical assertions are mixed with very profound remarks. the doctor himself is taken as a patient into the mental ward. in which. The fruit of this decision was Ward No. too. The philosophy of inactivity which the doctor professes is as it were prompted and whispered by the immutable laws of human existence. He tries to show his lunatic acquaintance that external influences cannot affect us in any way at all. the people round. The setting.VI Chekhov knew what conclusions he had reached in The Tedious Story and Ivanov. as though he were living in some distant other world.

Indeed. and.' Chekhov joined the cherished Russian writers. Von Koren. But not for long. He had come to feel how intolerable was hopelessness.of the hospital. Without knowing why. Chekhov wished to compromise. thrashed before his acquaintance's very eyes. There is no denying the interest of the subject: two persons befouled. but only in appearance. The principal hero Layevsky is a parasite like all Chekhov's heroes. I believe. Its conclusion is also apparently idealistic. His condition is intolerable and he is living with another man's wife. only away from me place where he is living now. The doctor instantly awakens as though out of a dream. He is always in straitened circumstances and in debt everywhere: his friends dislike and despise him. can do nothing. His state of mind is always such that he is ready to run no matter where. The Duel. seduces women. lives chiefly at others' expense. . who can neither tolerate others nor themselves. who on his side is nearly related to our old friend Oblomov. does not even wish to do anything. True. 6 met with a sympathetic reception at the time. This couple lives in the world. never looking backwards. and the filth had stuck so close to her that not ocean itself could wash her clean. and naturally attracts Chekhov's attention. who has come to the seaside town on important business—every one recognises its importance—to study the embryology of the medusa. To beat one's head against the stones. . in a remote little place in the Caucasus. without even being attracted. and began to praise the idea. thrashed by the same porter whose behaviour he had taught his lunatic acquaintance to accept. He does nothing.. His very next story. His illegal wife is in roughly the same position. how impossible the creation from a void. . Then the truth of the wonderful Russian saying was proved: Don't forswear the beggar's wallet nor the prison. commonplace man she meets. . at this moment he dies. In passing I would say that the doctor dies very beautifully: in his last moments he sees a herd of deer. Chekhov had openly repented and renounced the theory of non-resistance. . without love. but the idea is triumphant. Von Koren. and then she feels as though she had been covered from head to foot in filth. is of German origin and therefore deliberately represented as a healthy. normal. clean man. . has a different character. yet he cannot get rid of her. the construction of this story leaves no doubt in the mind. . runs up debts. and he compromised. The critics could consider themselves quite satisfied. still. as one may see from his name. unless it be even more horrible. the grandchild of Goncharov's Stolz. eternally to beat one's head against the stones. But in Goncharov the . is so horrible that it were better to return to idealism. Ward No. the direct opposite of Layevsky. A fierce desire to struggle and to protest manifests itself in him. . For contrast's sake Chekhov brings Layevsky into collision with the zoologist. and even thrashed. whom he has come to loathe as he loathes himself. she gives herself to the first.

according to the stereotyped prescription of the 'sixties. nor while he lived among the living. You have the feeling that were he to awaken he would be a match for a dozen Stolzes. always triumphant—in act no less than in theory. while the clean Stolz lived and remained clean in his posterity! But to the new Oblomov he speaks differently. either the normal Von Koren. always victorious. and the mightiest and the most insignificant alike fall victims to it. He found it more pleasant to listen to the merciless menaces of a downright materialist than to accept the dry-as-dust consolations of humanising idealism. but in their materialism there is a tinge of veiled idealism. . They have in them even pathos and a maximum of logical sequence. The least indiscretion. his philosophising is unsuccessful. he was awakened years ago. The more they meet. whether open or concealed. And Oblomov himself is not represented as an utterly hopeless person. The novelist of the 'forties hoped that a rapprochement with Western culture would renew and resuscitate Russia. all his life long he had not planted one single little tree. he will rather exaggerate it. but his awakening. he or his companions had ruined every trustful girl he had known. It must be one or the other. a typical representative of the positive. the more merciless. . weak and unconvincing—makes an exception for Von Koren. roused feelings of intolerable bitterness in Chekhov. but only ruined and destroyed. unenterprising. There are many materialist heroes in Chekhov's stories. An invincible power is in the world. he has no God.' The good-natured sluggard Oblomov degenerated into a disgusting. He is always in the right. had he saved the life of one single fly. . the irreconcilable enemy of all kinds of philosophy—not one of his heroes philosophises. He is awake already. all the external. Idealism of every kind. not grown one blade of grass in his own garden. . and lied. . materialistic school. and demands that he should be punished with the utmost severity. ridiculous. He is only lazy. or if he does.contrast between Stolz and Oblomov is quite different in nature and meaning to the contrast in Chekhov. It is impossible that they should live together on the earth. did him no good. Of course. To reconcile them is impossible. the more implacable is their hatred for each other. Such heroes Chekhov ridicules and derides. His words breathe vigour and conviction. terrible animal. Layevsky is a different affair. And the pure logical materialism . material force is on Von Koren's side in the struggle. or the degenerate decadent Layevsky. crushing and crippling man—this is clear and even palpable. Von Koren calls Layevsky a scoundrel and a rogue. No more does he diminish the enemy's power. inactive. the deeper. But the man who had once been in the iron claws of necessity loses for ever his taste for idealistic self-delusion. and lied. 'He does not love nature. . It is curious that Chekhov. One can only deceive oneself about it so long as one knows of it only by hearsay.

to avoid quarrelling with people. Normal people can be perfectly satisfied. and begins to devote himself to transcribing documents. Good luck to them! VII The only philosophy which Chekhov took seriously. As yet he dared not lift up his voice against the public opinion of Europe— for we do not ourselves invent our philosophical conceptions. And materialism. With all his soul Chekhov felt the awful dependence of a living being upon the invisible but invincible and ostentatiously soulless laws of nature. . in order to pay his debts. with the 'sincerity' peculiar to themselves. he devised a commonplace. must always adapt himself and give way. Perhaps Chekhov cherished a secret hope that self-inflicted torment might be the one road to a new life? He has not told us so. above all scientific materialism. he puts himself in the way of his blows. and therefore seriously fought. Résigne-toi. wholly reduces to the definition of the external conditions of our existence. against which human genius can set nothing but submission or forgetfulness. which is reserved and does not hasten in pursuit of it the final word and eschews logical completeness. and perhaps he was afraid to offend the positive idealism which held such undisputed sway over contemporary literature. give way. but normal people are not too penetrating psychologists. the limited materialism which does not pretend to theoretical completeness. convinces us that lonely and weak man brought to face with the laws of nature. The old professor could not regain his youth.—the moral. Layevsky could not wash away the filth with which he was covered—interminable series of implacable. every minute. Perhaps he did not know the reason himself. since normal people read only the last lines of the fable. Von Koren's speech has the stroke of a hammer. For what reason? Decide as you may. the overstrained Ivanov could not recover his strength. was positivist materialism—just the positivist materialism. He gives more and more strength to Von Koren's arm. gives up his dissolute life. they take every word of the writer for good coin. happy ending for his terrible story. Of course it may seem that such an ending is more like a gibe at morality. give way. every hour. At the end of the story Layevsky 'reforms': he marries his mistress. and the moral of The Duel is most wholesome: Layevsky reforms and begins transcribing documents. they drift down on the wind from Europe! And.which Von Koren professes gives the most complete expression of our dependence upon the elemental powers of nature. and each blow strikes not Layevsky but Chekhov himself on his wounds. The experience of every day. They are scared of double meanings and. purely materialistic non possumus.

The submission is but an outward show. Aimlessly. Does a man sleep. for to confess at once that there is no escape is beyond the capacity of any man. without need or purpose. when he calls his sleep. Sleep and oblivion are only seeming. which is to say that their silence is doubly deep. is sleeping. and now they admit no one to their presence.'—as though indeed any of these about him. neither can he refuse so to reconcile himself. sommeil de brute? But how can he change? The tempestuous protests with which The Tedious Story is filled. all human things are alien to you. before men's eyes. the need to pour forth the pent-up indignation. But they are silent. Uncle Vanya raises the alarm and makes an incredible bother about his ruined life. could be responsible for his misfortune. soon begin to appear useless. You have no right either to help others or to expect help from them. He is ready to fire all the cannon on earth. that the neighbours must be awakened.' Little by little Chekhov becomes convinced of this truth: Uncle Vanya is the last trial of loud public protest. but how painful to him is the memory of this frank unreserve! When every one has departed after a stupid and painful scene. having no rational way of escape. who might also avail themselves of their right to rage. and even to fire the cannon. that it is no use to confess certain things to any one. to ring every bell. Your neighbours are no more neighbours to you. malignant hatred of the unknown enemy. any one in the whole world. But wailing and lamentation is not sufficient for him. . and even insulting to human dignity. in a voice not his own. Chekhov's last rebellious work is Uncle Vanya. too.' And even in this drama Uncle Vanya is the only one to rage. dors ton sommeil de brute—we shall find no other words before the pictures which are unfolded in Chekhov's books. Like the old professor and like Ivanov. 'Your life is over— you have yourself to thank for it: you are a human being no more. Then begins a Chekhov history: 'He cannot reconcile himself. like a lunatic. Your destiny is—absolute loneliness. His is voice is not enough. fills the stage with his cries: 'Life is over.mon coeur. He. They even repeat certain comfortable and angelic words concerning the happy future of mankind. To him it seems that the whole of mankind. but strangers. he turns to the revolver. seeing that 'comfortable words' upon the lips of such people are the evidence of their final severance from life: they have left the whole world. not even to one's nearest friend. although there are among the characters Doctor Astrov and poor Sonya. Uncle Vanya realizes that he should have kept silence. under it lies concealed a hard. He covers his own mother with insults. he begins shooting at his imaginary enemy. the whole of the universe. He can only weep and beat his head against the wall.' Uncle Vanya does it openly. A stranger's eyes cannot endure the sight of hopelessness. of a vigorous 'declaration of rights. Sonya's pitiable and unhappy father. does he forget. He is prepared for any extravagance. life is over. to beat every drum.

The surreptitiously positive thinkers—idealists and metaphysicians—do not use abusive words. more like to death than life. whatever means he tries for his salvation. degenerates. if he fails—vae victis. which are called conceptions of the world. humanistic conceptions of the world! Then again—and this is the chiefest thing of all—men can struggle with nature still! And in the struggle with nature every weapon is lawful. and he continues his long stories of men and the life of men. and the more content is he with himself and his justice. It bruises and destroys him.' He would add nothing. villains. they destroy all things visible by their outward passivity and inertia.'—those words which arouse the greatest aversion in positive thinkers. from the curiosity and attention of their neighbours. but it does not call itself rational. Outwardly they resemble all men. as though the only interest in life were this nightmare suspension between life and death. How comfortably sounds the voice of the unconcealed ruthlessness of inanimate. right. All the energy of his heroes is turned inwards. degraded animals!'—what did Von Koren not devise to fit the Layevskys? The manifestly positive thinker wants to force Layevsky to transcribe documents. This is the reason why the philosophy of materialism. Instead they bury Chekhov's nerves alive in their idealistic cemeteries. indifferent nature. worse. A 'positive thinker' like Von Koren brands them with terrible words. Of all our writers Chekhov has the softest voice.They have fenced themselves with comfortable words. though so hostile. They create nothing visible. compared with the hypocritical and cloying melodies of idealistic. as with the Great Wall of China. What does it teach us of life or death? Again we must answer: 'I do not know. Chekhov himself abstains from the 'solution of the question' with a persistency to which most of the critics probably wished a better fate. It contains no answer which can compel man to cheerful submission. it does not demand anything. What is the meaning and significance of this straining inward labour in those whose lives are over? Probably Chekhov would answer this question as Nicolai Stepanovich answered Katy's. since it has neither soul nor speech. therefore. but appear in some mysterious way to be the permanent elements in the ideas of Chekhov's people. with 'I do not know. A man may acknowledge it and hate it. If he manages to get square with it—he is right. is yet so near to them. attracted and engaged him. In the struggle with nature man always remains man. 'Scoundrels. the law of inertia and the . But this life alone. who have nothing to lose. therefore no man dares to touch their inward life. Therefore his utterance grew softer and slower with every year. and. impersonal. it does not demand gratitude. even if he were to refuse to accept the fundamental principle of the world's being—the indestructibility of matter and energy. the more energy he puts into his anathemas.

Is it strange then that in the choice between idealism and materialism Chekhov inclined to the latter— the strong but honest adversary? With idealism a man can struggle only by contempt and Chekhov's works leave nothing to be desired in this respect. Without thunder or cannon or alarm. they will not lead us to the elixir of life. But this method. But that is nothing strange: it condemns science. But how shall a man struggle with materialism? And can it be overcome? Perhaps Chekhov's method may seem strange to my reader. remote from their fellows and their fellows' fellows. This prompts a man with some mysterious instinct. Science began with casting away the longing for human omnipotence as in principle unattainable: her methods are such that success along certain of her paths preclude even seeking along—since who will dispute that the most colossal dead force must be subservient to man? But a conception of the world is an utterly different affair! Before uttering a word it puts forward an irreducible demand: man must serve the idea. to which the prophets of old turned themselves: to beat one's head against the wall. However obstinately we may pursue our scientific quests. to an activity of which a normal man. scientific method is defined by the character of the problems which she puts to herself. using normal means. . VIII Now perhaps the further development and direction of Chekhov's creation will be intelligible. Like Hamlet. and that peculiar and unique blend in him of sober materialism and fanatical stubbornness in seeking new paths. Science condemns it. not one of her problems can be solved by beating one's head against the wall. in loneliness and silence. but have existed since the beginning of the world). he would dig beneath his opponent a mine one yard deeper. Have you any right to expect from Chekhov an approval of scientific methods? Science has robbed him of everything: he is condemned to create from the void. And this demand is considered not merely as something understood. to gather all the forces of despair for an absurd attempt long since condemned by science. and appears upon the scene whenever the need of it arises. . is utterly incapable. In other words. Indeed. old-fashioned though it is—I repeat. nevertheless it is clear that he came to the conclusion that there was only one way to struggle. it was known to the prophets and used by them—promised more to Chekhov and his nerves than all inductions and deductions (which were not invented by science. To achieve the impossible one must first leave the road of routine. . but as of extraordinary sublimity. so that he may at one moment blow engineer . always round about and hazardous.

necessarily lead through an absurd life to an absurd death: but this was hardly Chekhov's firm conviction. slowly. not a spark. This habit is not so unimportant as at first sight it may seem. not a ray. but Chekhov goes forward. The matter is exhausted—stop the tale short. and in a tone which suggests that he is himself at a loss to say where the reality ends and the phantasmagoria begins. Sooner or later in all probability this habit will be abandoned. It may be Chekhov himself does not know for certain whether he is moving forward or marking time. Everywhere is darkness. Finally. Kovrin himself does not know who is right. anxious faces of the doctors. its perpetual hesitations and strayings. It is clear that he expected something from abnormality. and therefore gave no deep attention to men who had left the common track. Everything takes on a tinge of fantastical absurdity. in Chekhov's opinion. which lead him straight to lunacy. . for all the tense effort of his creation. True. One believes and disbelieves—everything. who appear like inquisitors in his eyes. its uncaused griefs and joys uncaused . His patience and fortitude in this hard. he breaks with his wife and her relations. but only sometimes. Kovrin has not the power to support the banality which surrounds him. He became so firmly convinced that there was no issue from the entangled labyrinth. writers will convince themselves and the public that any kind of artificial completion is absolutely superfluous. The death of the hero is as it were an indication that abnormality must. probably. . that the labyrinth with its infinite wanderings. Consider even The Black Monk. In most cases he preferred to satisfy the traditional demands and to supply his readers with an end. It is impossible for him to present to himself a clear and distinct notion of what is going on. At the end of the story he dies in order to give the author the right to make an end. he came to no firm or definite conclusions. when he sees before him his weeping wife and the serious. The people about call the monk a hallucination and fight him with medicines—drugs. even though it be on a half-word. When he is speaking to the monk. Chekhov did so sometimes. To calculate beforehand is impossible. In The Black Monk Chekhov tells of a new reality. hardly.and engine into the air. hardly moving. An inexperienced or impatient eye will perhaps observe no movement at all. . it seems to him that the monk is right. he confesses that he is under the influence of fixed ideas. underground toil are amazing and to many intolerable. This is always the case: when the author does not know what to do with his hero he kills him. In the future. better foods and milk. and goes away somewhere—but in our sight he arrives nowhere. where the best dreams of mankind shall be realised. Impossible even to hope. The black monk leads the young scholar into some mysterious remoteness. Man has entered that stage of his existence wherein the cheerful and foreseeing mind refuses its service. the black monk is victorious.

Therein the artist's true attitude to life received its most complete expression. knowing neither end nor aim. It is plain that they dislike their work. . and therefore one of the most remarkable of Chekhov's works. Let us talk. or half-mad. they cannot break away from the influence of the alien power. One builds houses according to a plan made once for all (My Life). and afraid to move from their seats in case they lose the way home. I am excited. . . bore him to death. the passengers. People read his works and praise them. but he is not his own master. .—in brief. nor abnormal. Tregovin the famous writer writes day in. day out: he writes and writes. But how can he get rid of them? He might give the oars over to the first-comer: the solution is simple." I have hardly finished one story than. They are all monotonous. always do one and the same thing. I too have my moon. post-haste. a fourth. but after it. I ask you. like Marko. the ferryman in the tale. The monotonous. . is beauty and serenity? What a monstrous life it is! I am sitting with you now. I must write. but. he must go to heaven. Read Tregovin's monologue: '. I see a . collecting roubles (Yonitch). The boat. but all the people in Chekhov's books who are no longer young remind one of Marko the ferryman. another goes on his round of visits from morn to night. . I cannot do otherwise. as in the tale. Why then should the first alone be considered as the real reality? The Sea-Gull must be considered one of the most characteristic. and the river too. and her last lover. even dismal. I must write a second. carrying passengers from one bank to the other. Where then. then a third. to the point of stupidity. Arkadzina the famous actress clings with her teeth to her seventy thousand roubles. a third is always buying up houses (Three Years). Not of our invention is normal life. rhythm of life has lulled their consciousness and will to sleep. as though it were the source of extraordinary joys. always think. Here all the characters are either blind. and they are all afraid to break the monotony. all things which normal men so fear and shun—became the very essence of his life. Of this and this alone must a man tell. What shall I begin with? [Musing a little. struggling and tossing about to no end nor purpose. for instance. Everywhere Chekhev underlines this strange and mysterious trait of human life. . I write incessantly. I must. . of the moon. There are such things as fixed ideas. Let us talk of my beautiful life. . but meanwhile every second I remember that an unfinished story is waiting for me. for some reason or other. Even the language of his characters is deliberately monotonous. and after the third. Day and night I am at the mercy of one besetting idea: "I must write. Not Tregovin alone. her fame. His people always speak. when a person thinks day and night. always of the moon. exactly as though they were hypnotised.] . he labours on without taking his hand from the oar. .

adapt the outer world to themselves. a half-mourning colour. very young and inexperienced people speak of a new life. light. and are burned like silly butterflies. . men and women alike—all are seeking for something. I say to myself: a sickly smell. and hurry to lock all these words and phrases into my literary storehouse. joy. is uninteresting. They cannot. In The Sea-Gull. While no answer comes down from heaven. only like a grand piano. but not one of them does that which he desires. I have no rest from myself. Matter and energy unite according to their own laws—people live according to their own. They fly headlong into the flame. Tregovin will not throw up the oars. They act. on every word. and is indifferent to the lives of others. And the strange fate of Chekhov's heroes is that they strain to the last limit of their inward powers. as though matter and energy had no existence at all. and put me away in an asylum. takes to drink.' But why these torments? Throw up the oars and begin a new life. and I feel that I am eating away my own life. in other works other heroes. And so on for ever. the same thing eternally. but there are no visible results at all. I catch up myself and you on every phrase. Each one lives in isolation. wears her hair loose. Do my neighbours and friends treat me as a sane person? "What are you writing? What have you got ready for us?" The same thing. They are all pitiable. It smells of heliotrope. Surely. They are always dreaming of happiness. the praise. The woman takes snuff. The man is irritable. forget myself. Impossible. the same as in the village. Not one believes that by changing his outward conditions he would change his fate as well. Perhaps they will be useful. for ever. bores every one about him. I would even say they do not want to. dresses slovenly. I am being robbed like a sick man.—a new subject. In Chekhov's work. I must not forget to use these words when describing a summer evening. they speak—always out of season. regeneration. and I must make haste to write and write again. Nina Zaryechnaya and Trepliev. I feel that the honey which I give to others has been made of the pollen of my most precious flowers. and sometimes I am afraid that they will creep up to me and seize me. the enthusiasm of my friends is all a fraud. which draws me to the desk.. yearning for something. will not begin a new life. In this Chekhov's intellectuals do not differ from illiterate peasants and the half-educated bourgeois. grumbling. Life in the manor is the same as in the valley farm. that I have plucked the flowers themselves and trampled them down to the roots. I am mad. or go off fishing: at last I shall rest. Everywhere reigns an unconscious but deep and ineradicable conviction that our will must be . When I finish work I run to the theatre.. each is wholly absorbed in his life. and it seems to me that the attention. But no! a heavy ball of iron is dragging on my fetters.

To think out things quietly. the organisation appears to be the enemy of the will and of man. can an essay upon Chekhov end. One must spoil. With these words. ruin. 'I do not know' was Chekhov's answer to the sobs of those tormented unto death. devour. a creation out of the void? 'I do not know' was the old professor's answer to Katy. destroy. One must beat one's head. . Worse still. And to what purpose? Is there any purpose at all? Is it a beginning or an end? Is it possible to see in it the warrant of a new and inhuman creation. mon coeur. dors ton sommeil de brute.directed towards ends which have nothing in common with the organised life of mankind. beat one's head eternally against the wall. and only these. Résigne-toi. to anticipate the future—that is impossible.

The play does not have much of a plot in either of these accepted meanings of the word. and the natural. for it is not addressed to the rationalizing mind but to the poetic and histrionic sensibility. and it is plotted according to the first meaning of this word which I have distinguished in other contexts: the incidents are selected and arranged to define an action in a certain mode. Nor does it have a thesis. to make it into a Marxian tract. objective form of the play as a whole. as the Broadway reviewers so often point out. nothing happens. © 1981 by New York University Press. In Ghosts... a complete action.. and end in time.FRANCIS FERGUSSON The Cherry Orchard: A Theater-Poem of the Suffering of Change The Plot of The Cherry Orchard The Cherry Orchard is often accused of having no plot whatever. That is partly a matter of the mode of action (From Chekhov's Great Plays. It is an imitation of an action in the strictest sense. the action is distorted by the stereotyped requirements of the thesis and the intrigue. and it is true that the story gives little indication of the play's content or meaning.) . middle. though many attempts have been made to attribute a thesis to it. with a beginning. Its freedom from the mechanical order of the thesis or the intrigue is the sign of the perfection of Chekhov's realistic art. or into a nostalgic defense of the old regime. And its apparently casual incidents are actually composed with most elaborate and conscious skill to reveal the underlying life.

" a theater-poem of the suffering of change. and the extraordinary feat of Chekhov is to predicate nothing. who will make a very good thing of it. and to the histrionic basis of all realism. is quickly recounted. Direct perception before predication is always true. But they cannot find. those moments in his characters' lives. a quest "of ethical motivation" which requires some sort of intellectual framework. whose family were formerly serfs on the estate. The action which they all share by analogy. The play may be briefly described as a realistic ensemble pathos: the characters all suffer the passing of the estate in different ways. but increased. or borrow the money to pay their debts either. Lopakhin. is now rapidly growing rich as a businessman. her brother Gayev. and the interplay he shows among his dramatic personae is not so much the play of thought as the . when they sense their situation and destiny most directly. between their rationalized efforts. Chekhov always focuses attention on the general action: his crowded stage. By means of his plot. cultural—which he wishes to keep. Thus the cash value of the estate could be not only preserved. and yet can have no final meaning in the purely literal terms of Ibsen's theater. is "to save the cherry orchard": that is. each character sees some value in it—economic. full of the characters I have mentioned as well as half a dozen hangers-on. His workmen are hacking at the old trees before the family is out of the house. is a drama "of pathetic motivation. or earn. says Aristotle. But this would not save what Lyubov' and her brother find valuable in the old estate. on the other hand. and he offers a very sensible plan: chop down the orchard. is like an implicit discussion of the fatality which concerns them all. thus adumbrating this change at a deeper and more generally significant level than that of any individual's experience. and her daughters Varya and Anya—is all but bankrupt. The Cherry Orchard. and which informs the suffering of the destined change of the cherry orchard. but Chekhov does not believe in their ideas. divide the property into small lots. The family that owns the old estate named after its famous orchard—Lyubov'. sentimental. This he achieves by rneans of his plot: he selects only those incidents. and in due course the estate is sold at auction to Lopakhin himself. and sell them off to make a residential suburb for the growing industrial town nearby.which Ibsen was trying to show. The slight narrative thread which ties these incidents and characters together for the inquiring mind. and the question is how to prevent the bailiffs from selling the estate to pay their debts. and this mode of action and awareness is much closer to the skeptical basis of modem realism. they cannot consent to the destruction of the orchard. So he contrives to show the action of the play as a whole—the unsuccessful attempt to cling to the cherry orchard—in many diverse reflectors and without propounding any thesis about it.

and the audience sees in a thousand ways. Through her eyes and those of her daughter Anya. that he was the purchaser. So they are. as Ibsen does in his drama of ethical motivation. The third act corresponds to the pathos and peripety of the traditional tragic form. parties—Chekhov is akin to James. The structure of each act is based upon a more or less ceremonious social occasion. the gathering of its denizens to separation. The occasion is a rather hysterical party which Lyubov' gives while her estate is being sold at auction in the nearby town. That Chekhov's art of plotting is extremely conscious and deliberate is clear the moment one considers the distinction between the stories of his characters as we learn about them. and the poem of the suffering of change concludes in a new and final perception." i. it is in this act that we become aware of the conflicting values of all the characters. Chekhov uses the social occasion also to reveal the individual at moments when he is least enclosed in his private rationalization and most open to disinterested insights. as well as from the complementary perspectives of Lopakhin and Trofimov. Lopakhin. it ends with Lopakhin's announcement. The first act is a prologue: it is the occasion of Lyubov"s return from Paris to try to resume her old life. the furniture piled in the corners. and a rich chord of feeling. now completed. In his use of the social ceremony—arrivals.e. we see the estate as it were in the round. The occasion is the departure of the family: the windows are boarded up. anniversaries. that the wish to save the orchard has amounted in fact to destroying it. in its many possible meanings.. and the moments of their lives which he chose to show directly onstage. and of the efforts they make (offstage) to save each one his orchard. But the action is completed. His purpose is the same: to focus attention on an action which all share by analogy. The Chekhovian ensembles may appear superficially to be mere pointless stalemates—too like family gatherings and arbitrary meetings which we know offstage. Though the action which Chekhov chooses to show onstage is "pathetic. instead of upon the reasoned purpose of any individual. What this "means" we are not told. The second act corresponds to the agon. in pride and the bitterness of guilt. in a new and ironic light. for example. suffering and perception. is a man of action like one of the new capitalists in Gor'kiy's plays. . But in his miraculous arrangement the very discomfort of many presences is made to reveal fundamental aspects of the human situation. departures. and the bags packed. as the moods shift and the time for decision comes and goes.alternation of the characters' perceptions of their situation. The last act is the epiphany: we see the action. and then dissolved. Chekhov knew all about him. it is complete: the cherry orchard is constituted before our eyes. All the characters feel. the homecoming to departure.

and by means of his plot he shows. and her life might have yielded several sure-fire erotic intrigues like those of the commercial theater. has caught her in a situation. but the form of the play as a whole is "nothing but" poetry in the widest sense: the coherence of the concrete elements of the composition. by his art of plot-making. and if the reader will bear with me. and of the evenings in the Purgatorio. like all the great artists of modern times. in The Seagull. . armed for its sharp encounter with the rationalizing mind." In the context the irony of her remark is deep: she is herself a purest product of the commercial theater. he merely presents.and could have shown us an exciting episode from his career if he had not chosen to see him only when he was forced to pause and pathetically sense his own motives in a wider context which qualifies their importance. but here with us there's nothing of the kind. intelligible moral values. "Well. in the composition of the second act. he is asked to consider one element. and at that very time she is engaged in a love affair of the kind she objects to in Maupassant. as she closes a novel of Maupassant's. and though his audiences even on Broadway are touched by the time they reach the last act. But the pathetic is the very mode of action and awareness which seems to Chekhov closest to the reality of the human situation. Ghosts is a fighting play. they are at a loss to say what it is all about. Thus Chekhov. The actress Arkadina. Hence the curious vulnerability of Chekhov on the contemporary stage: he does not argue. even in characters who are not in themselves unusually passive. that of the scene. It is this reticent objectivity of Chekhov also which makes him so difficult to analyze in words: he appeals exclusively to the histrionic sensibility where the little poetry of modern realism is to be found. with his subtle art of plotting. But Chekhov. or bring it to an end with an accepted perception. the effort of analysis must be made if one is to understand this art at all. Lyubov' has been dragged about Europe for years by her ne'er-do-well lover. the suffering and the perception of change. rejected these standard motivations as both stale and false. Nevertheless. Chekhov's poetry. is behind the naturalistic surfaces. even herself. But Chekhov. The "moment" of human experience which The Cherry Orchard presents thus corresponds to that of the Sopho-clean chorus. among the French that may be. and at the end of the play Ibsen is at a loss to develop the final pathos. and at a brief moment of clarity and pause. when the falsity of her career is clear to all. Ibsen defines a desperate quest for reasons and for ultimate. like Ibsen's. defines an action in the opposite mode to that of Ghosts. we've no set program. remarks. This action falls naturally into the form of the agon. its poetry concealed by its reasons.

the setting would be a crucial word appearing in a succession of rich contexts which endow it with a developing meaning.ACT II: The Scene as a Basic Element in the Composition Jean Cocteau writes. Poetry of the theater would be coarse lace. to assume the translucent text. But the center of interest is not in these individual conflicts. and the developing story—are composed in such a way as to make a poetry of the theater. as I have said. On the surface the life in his plays is natural. and bits of stage business. "is to take actual material such as we find in life and manage it in such a way that the inner meanings are made to appear. but the "text" as we read it literally. Young shows us what Chekhov means in detail: by the particular words his characters use. have made the text of Chekhov at last available for the English-speaking stage. enabling us to see through it to the music of action. by their rhythms of speech. The setting. and at times in effect even casual. nor in the contrasting versions for their own sake. In short. The second act. a lace of ropes. explanations. Chekhov's method. and interpretations." This description applies very exactly to The Cherry Orchard: the larger elements of the composition—the scenes or episodes. as we come to know it behind the casual surfaces of the text. The scenes are integrated like the words of a poem. At this point I propose to take this work for granted. "A field." Young's translations of Chekhov's plays. by their gestures. and to consider the role of the setting in the poetic or musical order of Act II. instead of an act of a play. a ship at sea. the contrasts between their views of the cherry orchard itself. Les Mariés should have the frightening look of a drop of poetry under the microscope. pauses.' Poetry in the theater is a piece of lace which is impossible to see at a distance. the setting. he makes the text transparent. together with his beautifully accurate notes. as Stark Young puts it in the preface to his translation of The Seagull. is one of the chief elements in this poem of change: if Act II were a lyric. possible. . but in the common fatality which they reveal: the passing of the old estate. in his preface to Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel: "The action of my play is in images (imagée) while the text is not: I attempt to substitute a 'poetry of the theater' for 'poetry in the theater. the underlying poetry of the composition as a whole— and this is as much as to say that any study of Chekhov (lacking as we do adequate and available productions) must be based upon Young's work. corresponds to the agon of the traditional plot scheme: it is here that we see most clearly the divisive purposes of the characters. and for any reader who will bring to his reading a little patience and imagination. Chekhov describes the setting in the following realistic terms. is not.

the freer it is to play the role Chekhov for it: a role which changes and develops in relation to the story. The less closely the setting is defined by the carpenter. that Gayev has been making futile gestures toward getting a job and borrowing money. the chapel. and make the trees. Gayev." To make this set out of a cyclorama. and fear. The sun will soon be down. with crooked walls. and Lopakhin approaching along the path) Chekhov expects us to smile at the sentimental clichés which the place and the hour have produced. and when the group falls silent and begins to drift away (having heard Lyubov'. not by means of the poetry of words but by means of his characters' changing sense of it. the governess. as reflected by these characters. he could present his setting in different ways at different moments in a few lines of verse: Alack! the night comes on. is a large town. without producing that unbelievable but literally intended—and in any case indigestible—scene which modern realism demands. The best strategy in production is that adopted by Robert Edmond Jones in his setting for The Seagull: to pay lip service only to the convention of photographic realism. visible only in the clearest weather. and an old bench. On one side poplars rise. But Lyubov"s party brings with it a very different atmosphere: of irritation. and the bleak winds Do sorely ruffle. as is their habit. casting their shadows. the silly maid Dunyasha. near it a well. far away. When the curtain rises we see the setting simply as the country at the sentimental hour of sunset. The scene. Chekhov. cut-out silhouettes. who is infatuated with Yasha. Lyubov"s valet. as we shall see. gives his setting life and flexibility in spite of the visible elements onstage. before supper. The dialogue which starts after a brief pause focuses attention upon individuals in the group: Sharlotta. for many miles about There's scarce a bush. Yepikhodov is playing his guitar and other hangers-on of the estate are loafing. big stones that apparently were once tombstones. long abandoned. the cherry orchard begins there. It is here we learn that Lopakhin cannot persuade Lyubov' and Gayev to put their affairs in order. flats. and here Chekhov is uncomfortably bound by the convention of his time. that . boasting of her culture and complaining that no one understands her. and all the other elements as simple as possible. A road to the estate of Gayev can be seen. and lighting effects would be difficult. is a satirical period-piece like the "Stag at Eve" or "The Maiden's Prayer". faintly traced on the horizon. Shakespeare did not have this problem. frustration. and far.An old chapel. In the distance a row of telegraph poles.

and presently they are listening happily (though without agreement or belief) to Trofimov's aspirations. beautiful and indifferent. his creed of social progress. This time the musical entrance of the setting into our consciousness is more urgent and sinister than it was before: we see not so much the peace of evening as the silhouette of the dynamic industrial town on the horizon. to protect him from the evening chill. you give life and take it away. LYUBOV lost in thought: Yepikhodov is coming— ANYA lost in thought: Yepikhodov is coming. they are all disposed to contentment with the moment. you. but Lyubov' will not let him go—"It's more cheerful with you here. The middle-aged and the old in the foreground are pathetically grateful for this note of youth. and the foreboding aspect of the scene in silence is more intense. and we briefly see the scene through Firs's eyes. whom we call Mother. In this silence Firs. and of hope. Lopakhin in a huff. of strength. and about her lover. and when Yepikhodov's guitar is heard. this time without music. and now we become aware of the frail relics of this life: the old gravestones and the chapel "fallen out of the perpendicular. we feel the country and the evening under the aspect of hope— as offering freedom from the responsibilities and conflicts of the estate itself: YEPIKHODOV passes by at the back. ladies and gentlemen. you gleam with eternal radiance. When the group falls silent again. Varya. and Trofimov.Lyubov' is worried about the estate. combine in yourself both life and death. and this group in its turn falls silent." In sharpest contrast with this vision come the young voices of Anya. about her daughters. playing his guitar. He remembers the estate before the emancipation of the serfs. who are approaching along the path. offers to leave. hurries on with Gayev's coat. VARYA beseechingly: Uncle! . he often uses music as a signal and an inducement. GAYEV: The sun has set. GAYEV not loud and as if he were declaiming: Oh. and the approach of darkness." she says. and we look up. In the distance we hear the music of the Jewish orchestra—when Chekhov wishes us to raise our eyes from the people in the foreground to their wider setting. TROFIMOV: Yes. when it was the scene of a way of life which made sense to him. After a little more desultory conversation. who has now fallen ill in Paris. wonderful. Nature. the ancient servant. there is another pause. and his conviction that their generation is no longer important to the life of Russia.

the weather is marvelous. and her bad conscience. each in his own way thwarted and demoralized. ANYA: What have you done to me. but the retreat is turned into flight when "the wayfarer" suddenly appears on the path asking for money. her sympathy. All sit absorbed in their thoughts. mournful. . like the sound of a snapped string. dying away. brings us back to the present and to the awareness of change on the horizon. to conclude his theatrical poem of the suffering of change. the contradictory aspects of the scene which have been developed at more length before us: LYUBOV: What's that? LOPAKHIN: I don't know. as if from the sky. Suddenly a distant sound is heard. The party breaks up. FIRS: Before the disaster it was like that. it seemed to me there was not a better place on earth than our orchard. both. Chekhov reflects the setting in them: ANYA a pause: It's wonderful here today! TROFIMOV: Yes. . gives him gold. my friends. and produces a sort of empty stalemate—a silent pause with worry and fear in it. somehow. in rapid succession. GAYEV: Before what disaster? FIRS: Before the emancipation. GAYEV: And it may be some bird—like a heron. Lyubov' in her bewilderment. TROFIMOV: Or an owl— LYUBOV shivering: It's unplesant. . almost a warning signal. A pause. But somewhere very far off. and. and all the characters listen and peer toward the dim edges of the horizon. In their attitudes and guesses Chekhov reflects. A pause. Firs is heard muttering to himself softly. There is only the silence. rhetorical note ends the harmony. The owl hooted and the samovar hummed without stopping. Anya and Trofimov are left onstage. Lyubov' feels the need to retreat.Gayev's false. why don't I love the cherry orchard any longer the way I used to? I loved it too tenderly. let's go. This mysterious sound is used like Yepikhodov's strumming to remind us of the wider scene. LYUBOV: You know. . Petya. Somewhere far off in a mine shaft a bucket fell. but (though distant) it is sharp.

We hear the worried Varya calling for Anya in the distance. Chekhov ends the act. to seduce us into one passion. like Wagner. I think. for whom the present in any form is already gone and only the bodiless future is real. We miss. but the "stage of Europe" which we divine behind the cherry orchard is confirmed by a thousand impressions derived from other sources. but equally complete.. or even with a subtler rationalization à la Shaw. On the other hand. as reflectors. and to the empty wilderness beyond Ibsen's little parlor. and with these complementary images of the human scene. compared with Sophocles. precisely because he subtly and elaborately develops the moments of pathos with their sad insights. Anya and Trofimov. and that is why. and the estate is dissolved in the darkness as Nineveh is dissolved in a pile of rubble with vegetation creeping over it. Anya and Trofimov run down to the river to discuss the socialistic Paradiso Terrestre..TROFIMOV: All Russia is our garden. Ibsen's snowpeaks strike us as rather hysterical.. he is not seeking. various images. and this subtle chord of feeling. The sun has set. that Chekhov is not trying to present us with a rationalization of social change à la Marx. and he shows us a "pathos". He shows us a moment of change in society. The surrounding scene of The Cherry Orchard corresponds to the significant stage of human life which Sophocles' choruses reveal. But. Chekhov wishes to show the cherry orchard as "gone". but for this purpose he employs not only the literal time-scheme (sunset to moonrise) but. which cannot be reduced either to one emotion or to one idea: they indicate an action and a scene which is "there" before the rational formulations. but it illustrates the nature of Chekhov's poetry of the theater. made her feel "at home in the world" anywhere. but the elements of his composition are always taken as objectively real. in Chekhov's scene. of any of the characters. Trofimov's abstract aspirations give him a chillier and more artificial.. He offers us various rationalizations. he sees much more in the little scene of modern realism than Ibsen does. or the emotionally charged attitudes. he seems limited and partial—a bit too pathetic even for our bewildered times. detachment not only from the estate itself (he disapproves of it on theoretical grounds) but from Anya (he thinks it would be vulgar to be in love with her). The earth is immense and beautiful. We may recognize its main elements in a cocktail party in . It is very clear. and various feelings. the moon is rising with its chill and its ancient animal excitement. Anya's young love for Trofimov's intellectual enthusiasm (like Juliet's "all as boundless as the sea") has freed her from her actual childhood home. The "scene" is only one element in the composition of Act II. any fixed points of human significance.

It is because of the exactitude with which Chekhov perceives and imitates these tiny responses. and their works. in its turn. comparable to the trained musician's ear for musical sound. The poets are to some extent talking about the same thing. The action which Chekhov thus imitates in his second act (that of lending ear. in a moment of freedom from practical pressures. has what might be called an ear for action. and each in his own way) of their situation on the doomed estate. time passing.Connecticut or Westchester: someone's lawn full of voluble people. CHEKHOV'S HISTRIONIC ART: AN END AND A BEGINNING Purgatorio. when taken together. e che lo nuovo peregrin d'amore punge. the general significance or suggestiveness. to impending change) echoes. that he can make them echo each other. he in some ways transcends its limitations. with its twittering voices. and its dim crowd on the horizon foreboding change. Chekhov. a single action with the scope. The poetry of modern realistic drama is to be found in those inarticulate moments when the human creature is shown responding directly to his immediate situation. and prepares the way for subsequent developments in the modern theater. interrelated. like other great dramatists. a dry white clapboard church (instead of an Orthodox chapel) just visible across a field. echoing each other—when the waiting and loafing characters in Act II get a fresh sense (one after the other. It is because Chekhov says so little that he reveals so much. se ode squilla di lontano. providing a concrete basis for many conflicting rationalizations of contemporary social change: by accepting the immediacy and unintelligibility of modern realism so completely. CANTO V— Era già l'ora che volge il disio ai naviganti e intenerisce il core. Such are the many moments—composed. a number of other poets: Laforgue's "poetry of waiting-rooms" comes to mind. as well as other works stemming from the period of hush before the First World War. its old gravestones and deserted chapel. like voices in a continuing . che paia il giorno pianger che si more. and the muffled roar of a four-lane highway under the hill—or we may be reminded of it in the final section of The Wasteland. and convey. lo di ch'han detto ai dolci amici addio. of poetry.

For Dante accepts similar limitations at this point but locates the mode of action he shows here at a certain point in his vast scheme. Here he is virtually (but for the Grace of God) lost. at this point in the ascent. beyond the night which is now approaching. The explicit coordinates whereby Dante places the action of Canto VIII might alone suffice to give one a clue to the comparison with The Cherry Orchard: we are in the Valley of Negligent Rulers who. In all of this the parallel to Chekhov is close. Dante the author. but not rationally or verbally. and as we wait. as well as the more obvious limitations which he thereby accepts. with its hoped-for work. all the dangers are present. for his elaborate and completely conscious reasons. is somewhere ahead. and Purgatory proper. The rhythms. the natural saint. an unpremeditated obedience to what is actual. help to explain each other: hence the justification and the purpose of seeking comparisons. and the sound effects he employs are strikingly similar to Chekhov's. Looking more closely at this canto. lacking light. If Dante allows himself as artist and as protagonist only the primitive sensibility of the child. unwillingly suffer their irresponsibility. He wants to show the unbounded potentialities of the psyche before or between the moments when it is morally and intellectually realized. the naïf. Yet he remains uncommitted and therefore open to finding himself again and more truly. he composes with elements sensuously or sympathetically. and before he falsifies this perception with his embarrassing apostrophe to Nature. one can begin to place Chekhov's curiously nonverbal dramaturgy and understand the purpose and the value of his reduction of the art to histrionic terms. one can see that Dante the Pilgrim and the Negligent Rulers he meets are listening and looking as Chekhov's characters are in Act II: the action is the same. But because Dante sees this moment as a moment only in the ascent. defined. thought. In Canto VIII the pilgrim is both a child and a child who is changing. later moments of transition are different. The eighth canto of the Purgatorio is widely separated from The Cherry Orchard in space and time. watch. and moral effort. from sunset to darkness to moonrise. works here with the primitive histrionic sensibility. like Chekhov. but these two poems unmistakably echo and confirm each other. And so he shows himself—Dante "the new Pilgrim"—meeting this mode of awareness for the first time: as delicately and ignorantly as Gayev when he feels all of a sudden the extent of evening. and listen. it is because. The antepur-gatorio is behind us. Canto VIII is also composed in ways . It is the end of the day.colloquy. he is presenting a threshold or moment of change in human experience. evening moves slowly over our heads. informs the suffering of change. a childish and unin-structed responsiveness. just as Lyubov' and Gayev do. Thinking of them together. in both. the pauses.

even though that relation becomes explicit only gradually. the winged figures that roost at the edge of the valley like night-hawks. will be intelligible to the mind and. without losing their concreteness. to the movements of the psyche before they are limited. But Chekhov's characters are seen in the flesh and in their very secular emotional entanglements: in the contemporary world as anyone can see it—nothing visible beyond the earth's which Act II of The Cherry Orchard is not—ways which the reader of the Purgatorio will not understand until he looks back from the top of the mountain. Then he will see the homesickness which informs Canto VIII in a new light. the realization of hidden potentialities. they do not know what to make of them—perhaps they reveal only illusory perspectives. take their place in a more general frame." If Chekhov echoes Dante. The acting technique of the Moscow Art Theater is so closely connected. in the cultivation of the dramatic art after Chekhov. at least in ways of seeing and showing human life. did follow. In Chekhov's histrionic art. with Chekhov's dramaturgy. if not in the life of the time. were not such as to turn all Russia. that scattering and destinationless trekking. and in our time the fertilizing effect of Chekhov's humble objectivity may be traced in a number of dramatic forms which cannot be called modem realism at all. which he also sensed as possible. it is not because of what he ultimately understood but because of the accuracy with which he saw and imitated that moment of action. The potentialities which Chekhov presented at that moment of change were not to be realized in the wars and revolutions which followed: what actually followed was rather that separation and destruction. renewals. into a garden. or all the world. if not in society. But the end of modern realism was also a return to very ancient sources. at least in the dramatic art. the anagoge is lacking. But. The first and most generally recognized result of these labors was to bring modem realism to its final perfection in the productions of the Moscow Art Theater and in those who learned from it. and realized in reasoned purpose. with its signs of social change. If one thinks of the generation to which Anya and Trofimov were supposed to belong. Dante's fiction is laid in the scene beyond the grave. it is clear that the new motives and reasons which they were to find. and all of the concrete elements. the snake in the grass. that it would be hard to say which gave the more important clues. And though Ibsen and Chekhov are aware of both history and moral effort. defined. in its final development. the "desire is turned back" to its very root. Stanislavskiy and . to the immediate response. "masquerades which time resumes. The fatality of the Zeitgeist is the ultimate reality in the theater of modern realism. Thus Chekhov revealed hidden potentialities. where every human action has its relation to ultimate reality. after their inspired evening together.

Such were the Siddonses and Macreadys who kept the great Shakespearian roles alive after Shakespeare's theater was gone.Nemirovich-Danchenko from one point of view. If Chekhov drastically reduced the dramatic art. and Copeau. of modern realism. truer to experience. there is Clifford Odets. for instance. But this cultivation of the histrionic sensibility. when properly developed and critically understood. The Moscow technique. Vildrac and Bernard. and Chekhov from another. approached the same conception: both were searching for an attitude and a method that would be less hidebound. and the Moscow Art Theater's productions of his works were a demonstration of the perfection. . neoclassic comedies of several kinds. than the cliche-responses of the commercial theater. the art of playwriting also. and to some critics Chekhov does not look like a real dramatist but merely an overdeveloped mime. Modem realism of this kind is still alive in the work of many artists who have been more or less directly influenced either by Chekhov or by the Moscow Art Theater. . and in obedience both to artistic scruples and to a strict sense of reality. which Ibsen demanded. In our country. a stage virtuoso. also provided fresh access to many other dramatic forms. in his art. The progress of modern realism from Ibsen to Chekhov looks in some respects like a withering and degeneration of this kind: Chekhov does not demand the intellectual scope. A closely related acting technique underlay Reinhardt's virtuosity. Chekhov's plays demand this accuracy and imaginative freedom from the performer. bringing modern realism to its end and its perfection. in the Vieux Colombier. and Chekhov is much the more perfect master of its little scene. from which new growths are possible. great performers usually appear to carry on the life of the theater for a few more generations. After periods when great drama is written. The Moscow Art Theater taught the performer to make that direct and total response which is the root of poetry in the widest sense: they cultivated the histrionic sensibility in order to free the actor to realize. used it to renew not only the art of acting but. and such. and the realistic cinema. of which Symphonie Pastorale is an example. But the theater of modern realism did not afford what Ibsen demanded. He reduced the dramatic art to its ancient root. the ultimate meanings. in France. by that means. enables the producer and performer to find the life in any theatrical form. were the mimes of the Commedia dell'Arte. the reticent poetry. improving on the themes of Terence and Plautus when the theater had lost most of its meaning. the situations and actions which the playwright had imagined. Carmen. the interludes of Cervantes. . at a further stage of degeneration. he did so in full consciousness. and many other works which were not realistic in the modern sense at all. before the revolution the Moscow Art Theater had thus revivified Hamlet. .

Yurii Kazakov and Grace Paley. His imprint can be found on a range of writers from Katherine Mansfield and Sherwood Anderson through John O'Hara and Isaac Babel to Flannery O'Connor. but by setting a happy precedent that has released the creative energies of others by whatever untraceable routes. he made it possible for later writers to do what they have done. The first to do it. © 1984 by Cornell University Center for International Studies. Chekhov in a letter to Gorky Chekhov's gift to the world has been variously received: each reader can create his own Chekhov. MATHEWSON. not necessarily by way of direct influence. that is grace. critics and scholars have been slow to recover a more objective version of his legacy to us.) . rendered with immediate and telling detail—Chekhov now appears to us as chief legislator or licenser of a new and distinct way of writing. JR. In the dominant mode in short fiction since 1900—the casual telling of a nuclear experience in an ordinary life. Chekhov's Legacy: Icebergs and Epiphanies When a person expends the least possible amount of energy on a certain act.RUFUS W. writers have intuited the essential Chekhov with miraculous success. I would separate the Chekhovian short form from another which may (From Chekhov and Our Age: Responses to Chekhov by American Writers and Scholars.

Still. Not long ago the Old Vic ended a sensitive playing of Three Sisters with this final scene: when the sisters gather on the apron to utter their harmonized complaint. it has been visible to many as a distinctive part of modern literature. I think. This kind of writing has coexisted with the Chekhovian kind for a number of decades. In it a magical metamorphosis— man to bug. or from hypotheses—the "What if. who have contributed to this collection. one at a time. perhaps. or linear time or causal process at one crucial point. switches to the "Internationale. A number of present-day scholars in the Soviet Union and elsewhere are accomplishing the critical recovery of Chekhov on a one-story-at-a-time basis." and a stage-wide picture of the Kremlin is flashed through the transparent drop onto the back wall of the stage. was a series of intuitive apprehensions. and seem to form a web of connections between him and later writers.have begun in modern times with Kafka... for which there is not yet enough supporting evidence. we can only guess. not a plotted CompLit diagram of influences. I propose to set Chekhov against two writers—Hemingway of the Forty-Nine Stories and Joyce of Dubliners—who were at the center of the Chekhovian era. it is instructive. This political atrocity may be allowed to stand for all . If so. it is discussed without a precise or complete sense of its first legislator's contribution. say—replaces a vision which resembles the world we think we live in. for the regiment's departure. their heads held high in a full spot—presumably into the Bolshevik dawn. Toward rectifying this. Whether or not the Chekhovian era is receding into the past. some of which have been perpetuated as critical commonplaces—"iceberg" and "epiphany. derived from abnormal mental states. however. The transmission process. including some." to name two—are clearly visible in Chekhov's work. suspending natural law. as many have noted. Too often.?" buried in most of Borges's fictions. we must accept Pynchon's albino alligators as permanent successors to Hemingway's bulls and buffaloes and all those fish of various sizes and shapes. the attenuated and formulaic New Yorker story represents the final stage of the older form. at times and places we often do not know. but this process has been slowed by a set of institutionalized misread-ings which have endured with astonishing vitality. The standard political misreading—that Chekhov was some kind of subliminal Bolshevik. The actors utter the lines as written but contradict their meaning by their actions: the sisters turn. unknowingly forecasting the 1905 Revolution—is to be expected from the Soviet Union. to discover that qualities in the prose of later writers. the military band which has been playing offstage. and if. and walk off. Affinity is all I will try to show. but there are other sources. Fantasy's monkey-link is inserted in the chain of reality. with another. it may be that the Kafkan mode is gaining ascendancy over modern tastes.

a sigh or a yawn. into a shrug. These misreaders fail to see the formal intricacy of the Chekhov story. himself. They have learned too that there is a high incidence of violence. the contending forces in the story are as tightly knit as in a well-made sonnet. Such has been the case with Chekhov's "Enemies" (1887)." But in the case of "Enemies" and its misreaders.efforts to shape Chekhov to fit any set of abstractions." a designation that speaks for itself. earned. which is felt in the glaring light. and in the disarray of medical gear scattered over the furniture and the . in Gorky's words. have avoided both the programmatic and the sentimental misreadings. they fail to respond to its moral power." as one of them has said. and because they do not know how to read it. that even when the central event in a story is a choice not made or an action not taken. is seen as a gentle. and appropriate. They have sensed in their own ways that Chekhov possessed one of the finest and toughest sensibilities in literature." The serious writers who have read Chekhov carefully and might claim descent from him. observant shoulder-shrugging doctor who told his countrymen. and the denouement is reached with an Aristotelian rigor. But one must try. He mechanically lifts his feet higher than need be over the thresholds between rooms. and that though there is pity. what is normally implicit—the moral action of the story—is brought to the surface and made perfectly explicit. though in one important sense an uncharacteristic one. The stillness of the house tells of the furious activity just ended. it is astringent. A family of misreadings can be grouped under the heading "The Voice of Twilight Russia. the failure to detect the psychological clues or moral signals buried under the surface of the random and the everyday—what the Stanislavsky troupe called the "sub-text. and blankness of his mind. and walks slowly through his house. my friends. this gesture telling us all we need to know about the strength of his feelings. And still the point is missed. The misreadings of it point to a difficulty the reader or critic may have with any major writer of this school. one of his finest stories." and then fade. or "droop. the doctor forgets the stranger seconds after he has received him. calling attention to the essential qualities of a story by overlooking them. The most precise misreadings are often the most instructive. "You live badly. political or otherwise. No retelling of this startling story can reproduce the miracle of the telling. A stranger seeking help rings a doctor's doorbell just moments after the doctor's only son has died of diphtheria. both psychic and physical (in one story an infant is murdered in boiling water). stories that convey a "mood. This Chekhov writes stories without beginnings or endings or plotted action. it is shameful to live like that. Chekhov. and all it shows us of Chekhov's vision of experience. Stupefied by grief.

The doctor returns to the stranger at the door who implores him to drive a considerable distance to attend his wife who has had a heart attack." This sense of the play between surface and depth does indeed remind us of Hemingway's "iceberg" story. But the story is not allowed to end as the ironic presentation of a moral standoff. will not pass. the misreadings burgeon. Grief has issued in injustice. His grief. We know this because Chekhov. Even when the untold story is clearly told. in its grip. though very real. . He shows us—and tells us—something else about grief: it is a totally self-absorbing emotion. . he says. perfectly misled by the false clues. The doctor. we learn that his wife has feigned her illness in order to run off with her husband's best friend. Chekhov is at pains to make the stranger less attractive than the doctor. The story is about grief—here caught at the moment of its onset. discovers only that the doctor is by far the more attractive figure. Ermilov. we are made to realize.floor. but this conviction. When V." will refuse forever to recognize the other man's suffering. and this with all signals flying in the story. . the programmatic and the subjective have come from opposite starting points to the same false conclusion. quite uncharacteristically. He is rich. on "the power of the tacit"—the critical errors multiply. it will remain in the doctor's mind until the grave. Then. And when a Chekhov story tells itself—relies. unjust and unworthy of the human heart. each locked in his separate misery. The doctor protests. he discovered that the doctor represents the progressive forces of history and chided Chekhov for not realizing it. moral crimes may be committed. When Ronald Hingley. which tend to disparage the stranger. is in the wrong and will remain so because he will never forgive his "enemy. that is. His wife lies motionless on a bed. Chekhov's English biographer. In the working out of the story. How do we know? Chekhov enters his story once more and tells us so. only in the language of music. a Soviet commentator of the Stalin era. pampered. affected. overwhelming one another with the vilest insults they can muster. laid his Marxist grid on the story. To top off these clues. then numbly gives in. the two men rage at each other. which can be told. His house is richly and modishly furnished—a shiny new cello stands provocatively in the corner. . Chekhov once described implicit narration this way: "People are eating dinner—just eating dinner—and at that moment their happiness is taking shape and their lives are being smashed. the dead boy's eyes have begun to recede into his skull. intrudes in his story to tell us so in a long paragraph about the mysterious beauty of that emotion. too. Time will pass and Kirikov's sorrow. is edged with farce.

forever armed against the critical misreadings. but in the absence of any explicit reference to that experience. If we think of "Enemies" as the quintessential Chekhov story laid bare. we should begin with Hemingway. in addition to the buried story. Carlos Baker tells us. Many critics have noted the likenesses.' are closer to Chekhov in tone." brought on by a "random" external event but bringing into view the essence of a character's inner condition." Magalaner and Kain. too. For now. feeling and shape than the most painstaking English imitations. We are confined to the study of likenesses and to the assertion of affinities. We are confronted with a flat denial—a denial.with the largest fraction of it invisible under the surface. we cannot know what happened to him when he did. as tangible and as inexplicable as that between Dickens and Gogol. there are other properties to be found. This habit of iconoclasm. We are touching upon a strategic principle common to all three writers. He was an innovator—stories that seemed to the unknowing to have no endings but had instead a whole new inner structure. is our subject. rather. that taxes credulity. and to this mode of writing. There is. notably 'The Dead. for example. or Joyce's ruthless way with the pieties of his paralyzed Dublin. Ellmann. have drawn up a list of the Chekhov stories Joyce may have read. his must remain the last word. no doubt. This is the kind of writer's perception that spread the Chekhovian message from one to another over the decades. notes the similarities— "the closest parallels to Joyce's stories are Chekhov's"—but it is he who cites Joyce's statement that he had not read Chekhov before he wrote Dubliners. With Joyce the problem is more difficult. Gilbert Phelps has written: "Many of the tales in James Joyce's Dubliners. speculating on the likelihood of influence. Cheever becomes an initiate and is. in general. a deliberate toughness of attitude toward routinized patterns of feeling and the language that expressed them—we recall Hemingway's hatred of the literary "padding" which obscured a true view of things. a mysterious affinity. We hear John Cheever noting its presence in Chekhov in a recent interview: I love Chekhov very much. In possession of this insight. Affinity. and if we proceed from the lesser to the greater degree. I would add. and of Joyce's mysteriously wrought "epiphanies. We can assume. one would like to think. accounts for the hostility and . We confront. then. that Hemingway read Chekhov with the other Russians when he went to school at Sylvia Beach's Paris bookstore. which are common to the entire genre.

bullied. In almost all of these stories the climax. The oldest may be Volodya. Chekhov wrote some two dozen stories between 1884 and 1888 in which children find themselves in brutal conflict with me world they are growing up into. is marked by the onset of delirium. most visible.incomprehension which characterized the initial reception of all three writers. as in Tolstoy's prose. He takes this chance with his men at war. death and suicide. violence of all kinds. The effort to desentimentalize carries its own risks. Both writers walk the thin line between these pitfalls in their stories about childhood. These pivotal incidents were more readily to be found in the moments of transition in biological and cultural growth and decay as one crossed from one to another of the ages of man. and then is seduced by a married woman who . seduced and starved. "trembling from head to foot. passing or not passing me barriers of initiation. and the scaffolding of prologue and epilogue. mocked. Children in collision with the adult world. and allows us to assume that Chekhov's deliberate spelling out of his exact meaning in "Enemies" was a tactical attempt to forestall predictable misunderstandings of his unconventional view of grief. The process of a life could be measured by a chain of many small changes. The youngest ("Grisha") is two years. the povest'—had tended to resemble novels. or the moment of maximum shock and pain. we do not doubt that a scar will remain. The age of the child is always precisely given. the conte. and by the invariable signalling phrase. reduced in scale but retaining the leisurely exposition. eight months old (he is fed vodka. and one suspects that his lapses into either are fewer than Hemingway's. Chekhov's compression of the form required tighter focus on a single profound episode if the whole curve of a character's life was to be illuminated." In me denouement. with all the risks of false emotion which Dickens discovered in his treatment of children's suffering. is humiliated by his social-climbing mother. and given caster oil by an uncomprehending mother). perhaps. in Hemingway when toughness may turn into that cruelty which is the other face of sentimentality. Concentration on the biological stages of human life is a hallmark of the Chekhovian story. He is failing in the gymnasium. became a natural point of concentration for the whole laconic mode. the extended time span. his failed hunters—when a puerile machismo may be validated by demonstrations of insensitivity. forced marriage. in late adolescence. made delirious by the shock. often marked by the painful passage from one stage to another. They witness infidelity. Chekhov has been accused of cruelty through the years. his has-been fighters of men or of bulls. They are lied to. even when mere is a measure of relief for the child. though seldom of sentimentality. fed vodka. Earlier short forms in the nineteenth century—the tale.

or killed. turn into adults our hope and the future of Russia go up in smoke. thieving engineers (XVIII. . deforming experiences before he arrives desensitized (after a moment of cruel awareness) and acculturated to the world of his seniors. 263). our hope. Nick learns about the pleasures of sex. Not all these transitions leave bruises or scars. is undergone by members of the intelligentsia as they pass into maturity: While they are still university students they are an honorable. We can be quite sure of this because in all these stories we experience the world as the young person does. in this sense. Chekhov never again made a child the central sensibility in his stories. the rising sun ends a night of terror. good people. and in the filter are left nothing but doctors. very rarely. 88). which treat the bruising passage from childhood into adolescence and adulthood. The metamorphosis is a moral one: growing up. morally alive. writing most often about life gone wrong in the middle years. occasionally there is succor. But . unlike Volodya who learns the opposite and dies of his new knowledge. Far more often the culture seems to be the victimizer. Entirely missing from the work of the masked and reticent Chekhov is the autobiographical foundation of the ten Nick Adams stories. After "The Steppe" in 1888. Such a metamorphosis. but when they . presented simply as the heedless way of the adult world." He blows his brains out in the genteel pension where he and his mother live. first of man's ages. This profoundly pessimistic view of the human situation is well put in an aphorism from Chekhov's notebooks: "With the insects the butterfly comes out of the caterpillar. the culture itself offers a soothing formula. it is the other way around: the caterpillar comes out of the butterfly" (XII. destructive manner. against the onset of death. or. social categories. owners of dachas. life evaluated in retrospect. He concentrated on the later ages of man. In the state of childhood.mocks him for his poor performance and calls him an "ugly duckling. The child passes through a series of bruising. less often. as in the incantatory rhythms of a card game ("In the Coach House"). One may speak of the descent from childhood. the human animal is sensitive. or. through his sensations. They are somehow encased in professional boxes. . is a kind of growing down. and moral attitudes. the future of Russia. insatiable officials. into which the child is initiated in a painful. In these stories. he notes in a letter. his impressions and his feelings. with mankind. As he grows up these qualities are blunted. or a fatherly figure (though seldom the father) provides comfort. neutralized.

in "Big. With few exceptions. as does the . His curiosity had been gone for a long time. Chekhov ignores the moment when the parent confronts his responsibility for the generation following on his own. since the son must undergo these rites on his own.) And then there is a measure of solace. precisely as it does for Chekhov's nine-year-old in "The Steppe. Nick crosses the lake with his father. In "Indian Camp." Nick recalls in the presence of his young son episodes of his own initiation into hunting and sex. in effect. the trembling. a response of the culture which domesticates the event for them.) Presumably." where undefined terror lies under the surface of natural beauty." In "Fathers and Sons. we have seen the wounds inflicted. the similarities with Chekhov are greater. presenting a sequence of initiation experiences from childhood to full maturity. The child slowly realizes that a suicide has taken place. the same process is under way. The father extends an aura of protection. as a man must. but renders it more awful for the child who has never heard of this belief before. The child of Chekhov's "In the Coach-House" watches mysterious events as a kind of shadow play behind the lighted windows across the courtyard where he is playing cards with his grandmother and the janitor. who will perform a bloody. with a minimum of visible narrative apparatus. His terror reaches its peak when he views the laid-out body through the windows. but given in a lower key than Chekhov's. and the simultaneous estrangement from his father. But we know the scars are there. and Nick finds temporary comfort in being a child: "In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing"—so runs the final sentence— "he felt quite sure that he would never die" (193)." most notably." as the psyche wobbles under the onslaught of what he called "it. When the delivery is over. Nick's father asks if he wants to watch him sew up the incision. all-night Caesarian operation on an Indian woman." It's there. (The two incisions comment on each other. as Nick understands. The grandfather's kindly presence offers some solace. perhaps. (He had been unable then to stand the smell of his father's undershirt. the other in death. This horror is heightened by the folkloric tales the adults tell about a suicide's corpse-as-carrion. of course: one issuing in life. Nick goes away to war. and then has to deal with the memory of its horror.they do rest on a foundation of the biological-cultural ages of man and of the traumas of growth. the doctor. linking the generations through the common experience of separation." which may stand for several stories. In a number of stories we see him. The terror of the delivery is topped by the discovery of the Indian father's suicide—he has sliced his own throat. Two-Hearted River. They are told through the child's consciousness. "trembling from head to foot. But "Nick did not watch. In the stories of Nick's own early childhood.

is the last tiling he hears. "that we writers of fiction do more lying than anywhere else. but was intended to "provide a further test of Ernest's aesthetic theory in those years. the horror has been dispelled. It is a matter of degree. a rhythmically repeated phrase. This was not a mere editorial decision. Elsewhere. without explanations from the author. Chekhov advised young writers to divide their manuscripts in two and throw away the first half. he said that the story's first and last paragraphs should be thrown away: "It is here. stammered and wept.culture. which intervenes in another guise." he told Bunin. and yet without sacrifice of formal symmetry. One ought to write so that the reader is able to understand what is going on from the course of the story and from the characters' conversation or actions. In Hemingway's "My Old Man. or moral disclosure. 176). There is no sign of succor in either story." and learned that there are "things which have no name in children's language" (V... free of cruelty or sentimentality in both stories. dramatic design. is the best measure of the writers' achievement. as they say. however. "to lead into the story. serious man. Beginners usually try. . In Chekhov's "A Domestic Trifle." and they write that superfluous first half. but the scars—we do not doubt—are there. "Seems like when they get started they don't leave a guy nothing" (303). the story ends. 236)." And we must recall that the aim of Chekhov's art is "the absolute and honest truth" (XIII. That pain and pity are kept intact. Hemingway threw away the first fifteen pages. Both seek the same effect: the removal of all interpretive screens which blur the reader's direct apprehension of the reported-on experience. "Byu i navalivayu" (I trump you and play again)" (VI. The proportion of the untold to the told is greater: his iceberg rides a little lower in the water." after the child learns from callous strangers that his father had died in disgrace. Both Chekhov and Hemingway risked the pitfalls of false feeling by ending stories with children who are left stripped and desolate by brutal adults." after a child has had his deepest confidence betrayed by his mother's suspicious lover ("a big. 262)." the theory of the direct and simple transcription of things as . Hemingway is more laconic than Chekhov. He finally falls asleep that night to the soothing cadences of the peasants' card game. When he wakes with the sun. as Carlos Baker points out. realizing that the background biographies of his characters could be brought in by way of the action. When Scott Fitzgerald advised internal cuts in an early version of The Sun Also Rises. he had nothing to do with boys") the story ends: "He trembled.

both writers ask the reader to work harder. If we missed or didn't understand the phrase "let the air in" (373) in "Hills Like White Elephants. "the essence of active experience. "I rely on my reader fully. and sometimes an atmospheric detail—like the tea smelling of fish in "Peasants"—which suggests the taste or moral flavor of the entire story. need no explanation. responding to a pattern of signals." Chekhov once said. assuming that he himself will add the subjective elements that are lacking . it would seem that concealment had become a mere game with the reader and had usurped the narrative. Cutting so much out or pushing it under the surface. In "The Steppe" and "Big. that Chekhov always requires if his stories are to be fully experienced. the need for an authorial presence to perform the acrobatics of introducing character. we realize." relying on the same "immense power of the tacit" that John Berryman discovered in Stephen Crane. Hemingway's sawed-off endings bear a close comparison with Chekhov's. Chekhov most often opens with an impersonal communique. as an actor interprets the text of a play. like the lead into a news story telling who (often giving his age). we could not know that "sea change" in the story of that name concerns a shift from a heterosexual to a homosexual attachment. "When I write. We are concerned with more than the suppression of the kind of information found in conventional beginnings and endings. which project a kind of dotted line in the direction of future events that. setting and himself. A sharp eye for the single detail would replace the finely tuned sensibility. A good "performance" by the reader will depend on his ability to detect the pattern of the charged details. or if we failed to note the gender of the pronoun referring to the lover the girl is running away to join. things. sometimes to no more than hidden bits of information." (XV. His stories sometimes begin in the middle of a conversation or a monologue. ("Now I Lay Me"). or with statements which appear to be answers to unasked questions: "That night we lay on the floor in the room and I listened to the silkworms eating" (461). people. James and Conrad. By responding in the right way..." we would not know that the story was about abortion. the reader collaborates in the experience of the story. If there were nothing else to say about these stories.they are. when and where. with a brief notation on the protagonists' spiritual condition. the prologues and epilogues often favored by Turgenev. The reader/performer of a Hemingway story must be alert to all kinds of clues. Various kinds of narrative scaffolding are discarded—above all. Hemingway gives us less." when they bodi are at . 51). what. or a musician a score. Two-Hearted River. the emotional coloration or moral tonality in the bare description of places. calling our attention to the story beneath the story in a very muted way. Maupassant and Chekhov.

because Chekhov's child and Hemingway's vulnerable adult have apprehended them that way. Carlos Baker notes the other aspect of this kind of perception. In the case of these two stories a fourth. captured as an impression on the mind of the observers. with meanings latent in the "observed" details. an impression formed partly by the emotion with which it is received. And it was Chekhov. and recorded it in similar ways. neither. the possibility of a common ancestry is worth noting. derived perhaps from transcendentalism. the pursuit of the implicit meaning beneath the "observed" object. Flaubert's hard. These major emotions are felt through a perfectly wrought texture of the random. Both are concerned with capturing in language the exact contour of their worlds—primarily the natural worlds—rendered through the evidence of the senses (Chekhov wrote in a letter while he was working on "The Steppe" that it was going well: he had caught the "smell of hay" XIV."—and we could add. the trivial. Still. as occupying a central position in the formation of the modern short story. 14). Mattheissen points out in American Renaissance that Thoreau was the first American to try to capture the actual look. they are also closest together." he writes. as Hemingway was later to do. and we know when we have approached or crossed the boundary between them. They had seen the world similarly. which in turn is transmitted back to and invested in the object. and unexpected source. not influence. of course.their best. exact surfaces. in Hemingway's the minutely recorded details of the rituals and circumstances of fishing in a particular river. would have misread the full human disclosure in the other's story. EO. who helped to make this two-level perception." a sense of the connotations of things existing in and below the denoted shapes and colors. to Chekhov's. proposes itself—Henry David Thoreau. "look forward to Hemingway's. in between the two. Under the surface of both Thoreau and Hemingway one finds an objective consciousness of what Thoreau himself called "dusky knowledge. feel and sound of things in prose. They were not contemporaries. are likely models for both Chekhov and Hemingway. "Thoreau's convictions about the nature of art. and I have been content to celebrate likenesses—to establish affinity. too. or Tolstoy's focus on the perceptual play between mind and object. into a principle of fictional order. Maupassant must be mentioned here. . If they had been contemporaries. the everyday—in Chekhov's story the chance encounters of a routine journey across the steppe. I am sure. We know the beauty and the terror of the landscape.

If Chekhov's several hundred stories were grouped according to the kinds of crisis explored." for example. Each system of moral inertia has its "enforcers": consider the self-appointed trio of judges who "examine" Dr. Indeed. If influence were the goal of this inquiry. we would place stories by both in which the character begins in a trap and generates a plan. to escape—with the denouement marking the failure of the intention. He is head and shoulders over the others. or die bully-boy brother of Polly Doran in "The Boarding House. where a single character moves from one stage of understanding of the world to another. that harsh. "paralysis. sketching in miniature the entire curve of Anna's development. a minimum of exposition. or some fault of will or understanding.II Hemingway placed Dubliners on a list of works he most admired. Of the latter he said." deciding mat his disgust wim his own and me town's life are signs of insanity. Thus the single emotional step Anna Karenina takes toward Vronsky and away from Karenin during the train ride from Moscow to Saint Petersburg (marked at the end by her sudden discovery of her husband's protruding ears) might be seen as a self-contained short story. are the marks of the Chekhovian mode in Joyce's Dublin cycle. and of the play he discloses between it and the minds of his characters. never theatrical. By going from Hemingway to Joyce we shift on the scale of affinities from the easily demonstrable to the uncanny." Joyce's governing motif. it would be found that these fourteen by Joyce would take their places under many of the same headings. a new crystallization of consciousness. we may speculate. He is never dull. through inaction. Abrupt beginnings and abbreviated endings. and an implicit treatment of crisis and defeat under the surface of ordinary life. never stupid. "Tolstoy is a magnificent writer. as others have sensed. or responds to an invitation. or entertains a desire. provincial vulgarity which deadens the heart and mind in me same way. The writers Joyce most admired were Flaubert and Tolstoy. one would proceed from Chekhov through Joyce to Hemingway. the new stage reached in the form of an epiphany of thought and feeling. Under "entrapment." who lets any man who might dishonor his sister know mat he'd "bloody well . and lock him up with the lunatics." Tolstoy's presence behind all these writers may well result from his mastery of me physical universe. may be said to have been Chekhov's as well. Common ancestry remains a possibility. matched by the term poshlost. never pedantic. but Joyce's denial that he had read Chekhov removes the middle term of the sequence and destroys the hope of continuity. Chekhov and those who succeeded him have found a model for the short story in the discrete episodes of the great novels. 6. Ragin in "Ward No. self-deception. Or.

it plots the same curve any Chekhov character may be placed on." when set against Chekhov's stories about childhood. the power of custom. Death-in-life. The walking dead of "Vierochka. or routine defeats the fragile longings in a more impersonal way. and in two excursions into public life: politics in "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" and the church in "Grace. that premature surrender of the conscience or the heart. Joyce's "The Sisters." Both bespeak the decay of once vital institutions. The note of personal mortality is struck in several stories toward the end of the collection—Maria's old age in "Clay. while he remains biologically alive in that dreary hotel room in Kharkov." are followed by three stories about men on either side of thirty. as Joyce's James Duffy destroys the life of Mrs. Those about children center on the same painful collision between generations. of love gone wrong. heightens the sense of detailed correspondences between the two writers. defining his situation and controlling his vision of it if he is able to perceive it. or rancid family life. until we are given the full perspective in "The Dead. with intimations of mortality." the aging professor dies emotionally." "Araby. with the primacy of the biological life cycle." "About Love" and many other stories destroy the lives of those who turn to them for help. of pain passed on." the stillborn child stands as an exact emblem of the death of the marriage." as Gabriel. The line of the curve becomes less distinct in stories about love gone wrong. In "The Name-Day Party. Counterparts for all these subjects can be found in Chekhov's stories. shaping the sequence of stories into an aesthetic whole. It is the governing scheme of Dubliners. and James Duffy's sense of his own death-in-life in "A Painful Case". or has become. In "A Dreary Story." In other stories." "The Man in A Case. Joyce's stories are arranged more or less exactly along this parabola: three stories about misused children. and knows it. in any number of ways." the question of responsibility for the death of Mrs.put his teeth down his throat. habit. with the destructive passage of time and the final onset of death and oblivion. Sinico. Joyce is more systematic than Chekhov in his concern with the ages of man. Both tell their stories through the thoughts and feelings of a child— Chekhov most often through an adult who hovers over the child's mind. Oblivion—Gusev's corpse attacked by a shark ("Gusev")." "Ionich. . the archbishop's person erased from living memory after his funeral ("The Archbishop")—is as certain as that promised to Gabriel Conroy at the end of Joyce's sequence. Stories about the middle years also hinge on the discovery of blight in a mislived or unlived life. of help refused when it might save a life. in sudden tenderness and understanding. against the presence of death made universal by the falling snow. settles for the little he is. "Sisters. so he would." "An Encounter. is a frequent theme. Sinico.

thus evoking momentarily the vitality and commitment of the Church—qualities that have ebbed out of this semi-paralyzed. a strategy calling for a slightly implausible maturity from the narrator." "simony" (9). the voice of the adult culture. though we do not doubt that the same active sensibility is there. Through his talks with Father Flynn. and the final hint of madness. We have been prepared for his reticence with adults: we know that he is silent and unresponsive when he is "under observation" in . afraid of making a noise. The boy is subdued. After the viewing of the body (the boy is observant but confused: "I could not gather my thoughts") the aunt and the sisters take control of the narrative. When he learns of the priest's responsibilities toward the Eucharist. he's gone to a better world" (15). whom the boy recalls as saying "I'm not long for this world" (9). the payment of insurance—are expressions like "Ah. and an underlying feeling of dread. opposes the boy's relationship with the dying priest—children's minds "are so impressionable" (11). As in Chekhov. snuff-covered priest whose faltering hand once dropped the chalice during Mass. The same note is sounded after the priest dies: " 'God have mercy on his soul. blanketing his own perceptions with a web of language made from the clichés of Irish death.reporting only on his experience. but translating it into adult language. wonder. When death has been wrapped up in all its ritual sentiments. His rich and bewildering experience has been marked for him by strange new words—"paralysis. judge by different norms. child and adult live on different planes. He has known awe. the child has been exposed to history. Joyce in this story (and in "Araby" and "An Encounter") letting the boy do the telling. The stereotyped Irish vocabulary of death is introduced early by Father Flynn. The boy has also been exposed to sin and to death. Eliza presents her banal report on his life: his delinquency (the dropping of the chalice). Laced through their matter-of-fact account of his passing—the laying out and washing of the corpse. the obituary notice in The Freeman's General. and when we learn what the boy's impressions have been. and to the ancient and intricate mysteries of the Church. "No one would think he'd make such a beautiful corpse" (15). but adult understanding of the priest's life is recorded in a litany of dead language. a guilty pleasure in his sense of the nearness of evil. he wonders "how anybody had ever found in himself the courage to undertake them" (13)." "gnomon. Well. we realize that the two generations are in competition over the value and meaning of the experience. Old Cotter is right.' said my aunt piously" (10). Old Cotter. and he withdraws from the scene except as objective observer. "You couldn't tell when the breath went out of him" (15). to exotic languages and distant places. his slow decline.

A kind of wound may have been inflicted by insensitive. and the bacterial dairy cultures in the basement. her capacity to hope in ruins. Joyce's) reticence about his feelings means we cannot locate that Chekhovian moment of "trembling" if. It may be. In stories of the middle years. in fact. Gallaher. Such stories are built upon the life-history of an illusion. though we are not told it. that it serves the further office of beginning to still his curiosity. one suspects. stimulated by the visit of his successful friend. In Chekhov's superb "A Woman's Kingdom. the longing to be married gives rise to the illusion that one can or will attain felicity that way. The teacher never gets around to reading Lessing. his entrapment has begun. feels the powerful tug of her dreary. with. The clichéd language." the happy marriage slowly sours. but his (and." when the young woman factory-owner determines to break out of her situation and marry beneath her station. In any case. and set afloat on more booze than he is used to. Or it may be that the relief he has felt at Father Flynn's death signals his ultimate acquiescence in the adult's prosaic version of the events. show forth to her (and to us) the quiddity. in the story of that name. a small army of "enforcers"—servants." Little Chandler's imagined literary career in London. drain the experience of its wonder and its menace. of course. Joyce's Eveline. In "A Little Cloud. in effect. The action is. "enforcers" of the culture of deadened feelings.their oppressive presence. Just as often. In his final rage against his condition he acknowledges his defeat by it." of her situation. it occurs. from its genesis to its defeat. the mundane account of the priest's life. There are the cats in the bed. If so. his freedom is short-lived. the "whatness. dependents and employees—crushes her impulse toward liberation and drives her back to her solitary eminence. In Chekhov's "The Teacher of Literature. the brute power of inertia crushes the longings of characters at critical moments of their lives. We know that he is there to observe and absorb. and at the same time dispels the mystery which the boy's fresh and open sensibility has responded to. inaction. At the end the upwelling of bitter feeling and the knowledge of her condition that accompanies it. performing both functions of this process as we noted it in two Chekhov stories: it dulls the pain and fear. and he plays cards in the club—a sure sign in Chekhov's system of signals of the death of the heart. the process of acculturation is very Chekhovian. but the rise and fall of tension is marked by the fate of the aspiration. routinized life when she refuses at the last minute to board the ship for Argentina with her fiance and falls back into the squalid existence we have . is blasted out of existence by the baby screaming in his arms and the return of his reproachful wife. Sometimes the inertial force emanates from the domestic nest. diough not cruel.

and then falls back on his bed. but with the vegetation dying in the movement of the seasons. the stagnant culture has been internalized. the new knowledge he has acquired has blighted his life.) When the invitation finally arrives. it is likely that Joyce would have singled out as the most telling detail the most incidental one—the cold. risen to the clouds by evaporation. When he walks out on a bathing pier over the river. and sensed his own mortal horizon. The strong current reminds him of nature's endlessly recurrent cycles: the water rushing beneath his feet may well be the same he saw on his first visit. but less able than the reader to grasp what has happened—he manages to keep it intact for a while longer. and attain the dignity and status of other men. Time's processes are in the air: he notes how the vegetation has changed from early to late summer. he has been deprived of his illusion. returning after it had gone to sea. in Joyce's "Two Gallants. The story's course is plotted by two other symbolic "touches. He has glimpsed the span of his own life. Presumably." When he expresses his vision in all its fullness to his battery-mates." he walks along the familiar riverbank. Lenehan. when one of them responds uncomprehendingly with a vulgar anecdote. (Among the various intimations of this awareness. he starts up for a moment. In other stories built on the longing to marry. The illusion of married felicity shatters. wet towel and precipitates a complex change in his consciousness. in the company of the unprepossessing Ryabovich. we are told and we are shown. Ryabovich regrets having exposed it. he wanders through the manor house and. and. Yet the proper analogy for Ryabovich is not with nature's perpetual cycles. In Chekhov's "The Kiss. by the action of ripples on the river's surface which break up the moon's reflection on the water." is thirty-one but dresses much . Ill at ease with his correct but distant hosts. wet towel—although the snow of "The Dead" is only one indication that he could use nature to the same effect. and while he awaits the invitation to return to the same manor house and to his "love. in effect puncturing the illusion. When the regiment returns to the same village at the end of the summer. in total defeat. No "enforcers" are needed. is kissed by an unknown woman. we attend. He has grasped the "whatness" of his situation by also grasping the "whereness" of his place in the span of mortality. and—we may assume again—of his capacity to hope. marry the woman. This "touch" in the dark generates a daydream in the course of summer maneuvers." when the local gentry invite the officers of a passing artillery regiment to an evening party. in a darkened room.just seen her about to abandon. the third "touch" occurs: he puts his hand on a cold. and fallen again as rain. he is astonished to discover that it takes only a few seconds to tell. we may note the likeness between the two writers' use of the epiphany. that he will return.

beefy friend. the interlude of revelation. corresponds to the end of "The Kiss. in the margins of other people's lives. and thinks of Corley's adventure with the slavey. The central section. he felt "keenly his own poverty of purse and spirit" (57). like Ryabovich. jester. reproduced for us as indirect discourse. And he lives on the edge of this barroom society. and general parasite—above all. a critical age in both writers' stories—and of his precarious existence. In the long opening and closing sections. A few minutes later he experiences the Chekhovian "touch" (although it is an auditory one). and. of limited self-scrutiny and flickering aspirations. His softly padded feet played the melody while his fingers swept a scale of variations idly along the railings after each group of notes" (56). In emphasis and proportion Joyce's story differs from Chekhov's. when he hears a street harpist playing "Silent. who is on his way to a squalid assignation with a "slavey" girl." Again it is auditory." not unlike the cold towel in "The Kiss. As he eats his meal of peas and ginger beer. As he thinks of his age—thirty-one. he longs for a steady job. hurrying along in the gutter beside his big. "throbbed deep and full" (54)." we are told. the notes take possession of Lenehan. and "control his movements.younger—the face under the jaunty yachting cap had "a ravaged look." "The notes of the air. for a wife and a nest. At this Lenehan said that he had been with Mac the night . but this time it is language. This small moment of authenticity.  Moyle. and of his aspirations. He meets some of his friends on the street and they talk: One said that he had seen Mac an hour before on Westmoreland Street. as a parasite on others' experience. he senses his own insignificance. but he lives in a meaner world of touts and tarts and police informers. Lenehan is living his marginal life. is brought to an end by a second "touch." Like Ryabovich. His longings for change are modest enough. After Corley has left for his rendezvous. "If he could only come across some good simpleminded girl with a little of the ready" (58)." Through the surface of false and vulgar feeling—Lenehan's dance of hypocrisy—the permanent and the genuine begin to appear: Corley occasionally turned to smile at some of the passing girls but Lenehan's gaze was fixed on the large faint moon circled with a double halo. He watched earnestly the passing of the grey web of twilight across its face (52). The music has taken temporary possession of his mind as well. cadger. as toady. precipitating an assessment of his situation. but the basic situation bears close comparison.

or care). and Joyce's two-part. and it reintegrates him into his inauthentic existence as hanger-on. But between these two there is another premonitory signal which works in the same way as Ryabovich's exposure of his aspiration to his fellow-officers. eclipsing the moment of revelation in the middle of the story. both writers worked many variations on both. Lenehan does not. the cocking early in the story of the gun that goes off at the end. Lenehan did not know he said that Holahan had stood them drinks in Egan's (58). then confusion. Seen schematically." when he hurries to share the details of Corley's nasty exploitation of his slavey. he walks back freely. Escape is shut off for good. his Chekhovian "case. though with one difference: Ryabovich knows it. as it was for Ryabovich. the final one punctures them both and brings understanding and with it despair." the entire story may be seen as suspended between two "touches": the stimulating sight of Mangan's sister—"Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side" (30)— and the deadening effect of the shop-girl's flirtatious chatter at the bazaar which precipitates his final anguish and anger. In "Araby." with its clammy banality and its leaden irrelevan-cies (we never know who Mac is. In Joyce's "Araby. The affinity between them is to be found in the precise and deliberate preparation for the full disclosure. and the second—the conversation—restores Lenehan to his "real" but inauthentic life. In "Two Gallants" the first "touch"—the music—brings understanding. I do not mean to draw a general distinction between them on these grounds. The young man who had seen Mac in Westmoreland Street asked was it true that Mac had won a bit over a billiard match. But neither pattern is the exclusive property of one or the other. He does not fully understand its meaning but it points the way toward the final puncturing of his illusion. In effect. even eagerly—"his mind became active again"—into his trap." when the uncle returns the boy hears him in the hall "talking to himself" and also hears "the hall-stand rocking when it received the weight . In "The Kiss.before in Egan's. Each is returned to his half life. then aspiration. There is a technical difference in the triggering effect the two writers use in these stories: Chekhov's is a three-part process. The mechanism of revelation Chekhov and Joyce shared is used differently in these two stories." the first random "touch" precipitates the aspiration and the illusion. This patch of "dead air. accomplishes several things. these stories appear very nearly opposite. It puts an end to Lenehan's self-examination. both the candid look at his own situation and his modest program for the good life.

and is more accurately seen as an index of character than as prophetic utterance." In Dubliners Joyce's symbols often invoke—through a song. Rather than chart the upturn he seemed to promise at the end of Portrait of the Artist. A longer study would search out in each the tight-knit order under the random rattle of daily life. the Bible. taken from the data within the story. on every aspect of a topic like this. of course. These few examples do not. Ulysses. and in the techniques used to show forth the essence of these lives. He knows that his uncle is drunk and is not surprised that the trip to the bazaar has been forgotten. of course. toward its final exposure as an illusion. the disclosure of depth through the suggested and the unsaid. There is more to be said. or to any thesis about the past or future of Russia. But he cannot understand its full meaning. and the statement of human possibilities within the larger limits that contain them. Homer and much more." "I could interpret these signs. it is always beyond the mortal horizon of the speaker. puts all of observed Dublin at the service of myth. especially in the light of Joyce's denial that he knew Chekhov. After all. exhaust the possibilities for discovering the similarities between the ways the two writers organize their stories. an historical reference—a body of Irish legend and myth which bespeaks a more vital past. If there were space enough and time. a detail from folklore. At the same time it would be misleading to force the two writers into too close a relationship. to encompass Shakespeare." Hemingway's "Big. I have sought the grounds of affinity only in the short story about the behavior and failings of ordinary people in contemporary life.of his overcoat. This difference of direction is already visible in the stories. Dublin's paralysis. I would conclude this sketch of literary likenesses by bringing together for a close comparative look: Chekhov's "Steppe. but if his characters sometimes talk indistinctly about progress. represents the end of a long decline. we assume. ." three stories representing a kind of joint apotheosis of this mode. which is to follow. Joyce has preferred in Ulysses to enlarge the Irish mythological background of his human Dublin. Chekhov continues and concludes his career with the plays which extend and refine his literature of observation to some ultimate point. and unattached to any larger body of mythology. Two-Hearted River. that his uncle's indifference to the boy's longing signals a reversal of direction in the fate of that longing." and Joyce's "The Dead. but we do not suspect him of wishing to "forge" his nation's "uncreated conscience." he says. as some have said. Chekhov may have hoped to shame his countrymen into self-examination. Chekhov's are locally generated. particularly in the resonance of symbols. The total corpus of his work may be seen as a Comédie humaine russe. the freighted details which carry the inner story.

that. We do not know how or where she absorbed it." It is even certified by an upsidedown misreading. and looking "like a carrot or a radish" is thrown overboard.In the hope that one contributes by being suggestive. The emphasis is laid upon such unexpected places that at first it seems as if there were no emphasis at all. Still in an attitude of suggestiveness. that it is a necessary preliminary to the full-length study of the properties of the Chekhovian mode. in her reading of Chekhov's "Gusev. neither helped nor hindered by the criticial commentary. because he has beep misled by a typical Chekhovian false clue: he seems to have failed to note that the holder of the most advanced social views in the story is meant to be seen as the least admirable human being. and of the actual routes by which it entered modern literature and moved around within it. This network of transmission is largely invisible. for a likely example. of its full literary pedigree. . how profound." I think we have caught Virginia Woolf in the act: Some Russian soldiers lie ill on board a ship which is taking them back to Russia. I have placed Hemingway and Joyce in the middle position between Chekhov and later writers—Flannery O'Connor. and how truly in obedience to his vision Chekhov has chosen this. We are given a few scraps of their talk and some of their thoughts. I have had to assume that the Chekhovian legacy was passed on by a series of acts of intuitive possession by working writers. I have assumed that a sketch of affinities falls somewhere between the catalogue of misreadings and the precise map of influences. Irving Howe's programmatic misrepresentation of the story is instructive. but we can find the Chekhovian imprint throughout her "Everything that Rises Must Converge. too. the talk goes on among the others for a time until Gusev himself dies. and the other and placed them together to compose something new. but here. then one of them dies and is carried away. and then as the eyes accustom themselves to twilight and discern the shapes of things in a room we see how complete the story is.

there is a slew of battery officers stationed in the town—one of them. once in love with the Prozorovs' mother. another (From Chekhov and Our Age: Responses to Chekhov by American Writers and Scholars. the inability to act becomes the action of the play. Many stories are being told simultaneously: the stories of the four Prozorov orphans—three girls. one boy. we get to know people through the accretion of small details—minute responses." In Three Sisters. action builds toward a major crisis. a continuous process wears away the enamel of facade. © 1984 by Cornell University Center for International Studies. In most plays. Most often. Vershinin. it might be compared to the drip of a faucet in a water basin.) . The grandeur of great gestures and magnificent speeches remains a Shakespearian possibility—a diminishing one. falls in love with the already married middle-sister. How to make stasis dramatic is its problem and Chekhov solves it by a gradual deepening of insight rather than by the play of event. In Three Sisters. a married man. tiny actions. little gauze screens being lifted in the day-to-day pressure of relationships. There is the old drunken doctor. Masha.HOWARD MOSS Three Sisters "Loneliness is a terrible thing. Chebutykin. grown up in varying degrees—living in one of those Chekhovian provincial towns that have the literal detail of a newspaper story but keep drifting off into song. Andrei.

he is a member of a species: . a character originally outside the immediate family. Private confrontation and social conflict are handled with equal authority. Irena. their marriage is the network to which everything else attaches. and there is Natasha. What we have instead is a kind of geometric structure. the human voice raised in song. Panicky and literal. a piano. and a symbolism still amateur in The Seagull. Soliony lacks accessible motivation but is easily recognizable as a true creature from life. And it uses music throughout: marching bands.proposes to the youngest. Three Sisters is the most musical of all of Chekhov's plays in construction. each takes on. trios. overlaying that. also declares his love for her. and to another stranger to the domestic circle. her lies are so transparent that every civilized resource is called upon to deal with the transparency rather than the lie. In a letter to his sister. he is repellent—one of the few repellent characters Chekhov ever created. No one need suspect her of the worst. to join and part in various combinations: duets. the brother. It is Natasha's and Andrei's marriage that provides the catalyst of change. it is made of steel. If Soliony is shy. Chekhov complained. the small town girl who sets her heart on Andrei." One can well believe it. Natasha's motives are obvious enough to be disarming—disarming in its literal sense: to deprive one of weapons. Yet Andrei never spins the wheels of action. There is Olga. Because immobility is the subject—no other play catches hold of the notion so definitively with the exception of Hamlet—secondary characters carry the burden of narration forward. the other a neurotic captain. "the faint sound of an accordion coming from the street. No ideas are embalmed in objects. the one that depends most heavily on the repetition of motifs. Each of these characters might be conceived as a voice entering the score at intervals to announce or to develop its subject. "I find it very difficult to write Three Sisters. One a provincial social climber. Masha's awkward school-teacher husband. Yet too much can be made of the "music" of the play at the expense of its command of narrative style. Seemingly artless. Soliony. That task is left to Natasha. in time. Soliony. and. has matured and gone underground to permeate the texture of the work. No dead bird is brought onstage weighted with meaning. A deeply wounded man who has turned into a weapon. the devouring wife. and so on. Soliony. a subtle web of connected images and words. Natasha and Andrei establish the main line of construction. Instinct. shyness is dangerous. hummed tunes." a guitar. an ultimate coloration: Natasha. and Kulighin. and still a third. much more difficult than any of my other plays. the lethal friend. written five years earlier. the oldest sister. one angle of each story fitting into the triangular figure of another. not insight leads him to the weak spot in other people.

. a murderer.the seducer-duelist. he is a definite negative force in a play in which a lack of energy is crucial. Soliony reminds us of that easily forgotten fact: He is the gunman of the play.. and in the name of affection. he makes good his threat. if never likeable. In Uncle Vanya. to evoke pity. Natasha turned inside-out. When Irena rejects him. Moreover. . functionally. the scent he uses fails to disguise the smell of a dead man." He is telling a lie. Tuzenbach has won Irena's hand but not her heart. ". Nothing redeems Soliony except the barbarity of his manner. Irena's half-hearted relationship to Tuzenbach becomes the fatal rivalry of the play. (A pause) Say something! IRENA: What? What am I to say? What? TUZENBACH: Anything. they are not without psychological danger. and The Wood Demon. Vanya shoots out of humiliation. the punishment it exacts inexhaustible.. Soliony is introduced into the Prozorov circle by Tuzenbach. Say something to me . he says. Tuzenbach makes a crucial request. a 19th century stock character Chekhov manages to twist into a perverse original.. The offstage gunshot in Three Sisters does more than end Tuzenbach's life and destroy Irena's marriage. And the gunshot in Three Sisters is fired offstage—a shot heard before in Ivanov. Irena has described herself earlier as a locked piano to which she has lost the key.. Unwilling to be mollified by life's niceties or won over by its distractions. Only the thought of that lost key torments me and keeps me awake. a symptom of an alienation deep enough. He tells us several times that. his touchy uneasiness is irrational. nothing's threatening . TUZENBACH: I was awake all night. In the scene just preceding the shot.. nothing's threatening . about to fight a duel with Soliony.. Tuzenbach. A final fact. the dark edge of an oudine: the black side of Irena. even to him. and unaware of his true . he is. A person who cannot feel pleasure and destroys everyone else's. who therefore begins the chain of events leading to his own death. perhaps. the shots occur onstage. a killer without her affectations and pieties. he says he will kill anyone who wins her. The Seagull. his failure to hit anything only deepens it. it leaves in its wake a slowly emerging revelation. Forced to obscure a fact while trying to express an emotion. That stench rises from a whole gallery of literary soldiers. he is. at least not a liar. needs Irena's reassurance. No matter how heroic a military man may be. Not that there's anything to be afraid of in my life. Ironically. half-farcical.

here there is something worse: to feel the demand but not the attraction. "Just say one word." I am at a loss. "I can't stand any more. Each is too full of his own suffering. The inability to respond evokes responses: coldness. Does he love Katya? Is she his treasure because this is the last feeling he will ever have? Is this final desertion the one symptom of his being human? Is there a tiny sarcastic twinge to "treasure"? In regard to people." The Professor. And there is something odd about Tuzenbach's request in the first place: he already knows Irena doesn't love him and is hoping against hope for a last reprieve. Tuzenbach's request echoes almost exactly the one Katya makes to the Professor at the end of "A Dreary Story. He is asking too much. like Katya and the Professor. help me!" she begs. The inability to bare or face emotional realities—a favorite Chekhovian notion—is only partly in question here. if honest. every credible truth is only partial. moved by her sobbing. If they did hear them. and I can hardly stand. ." I say with a forced smile. embarrassed. "Let's have lunch. just one word!" she cries. Treplev's suicide—or flight.'"—end of story. Nothing could be more Chekhovian than the last sentence of "A Dreary Story. she is offering too little. would have to be equivocal. She doesn't. "Goodbye. But those three words are endlessly and ambiguously illuminating. partly out of selfishness—other people's troubles are boring—partly out of self-protection." where it is met with the same failure: "Help me. They desert each other—as Katya deserts the Professor half a page after the dialogue above. Katya seems as impervious to the Professor's death sentence as he is to her despair. For even if Irena understood Tuzenbach's request. "And stop that crying. contempt. They are both guilty. The characters in Three Sisters. she for not loving. drive Chekhov's characters toward two kinds of action: the deranged—Vanya's hysterical outbursts. what could they do? Needs.situation. hatred. and as Trigorin abandons Nina in The Seagull. Then he says to himself. her response. holding out her hands. revealed but never satisfied. Irena can hardly be blamed for not understanding its desperate-ness." I at once add in a low voice. Katya. Katya. wonders if she'll turn around and look back at him for the last time." "I shall soon be dead. he for demanding love where he knows it doesn't exist." "There's nothing I can say. watching Katya go. my treasure. do not hear each other's pleas. Katya.

between what we want and what we get. do we have—through an unconscious perversity—a vested interest in disparity itself? Proust. and who is middle-class. like Proust in Remembrance of Things Past. it invites them in. the completed fantasy of the romantic egoist in Soliony's: the destruction of the rival lover. working with such different material and in such a different way. thought so.000 pages. and Irena belong to a social class that has no counterpart in America. a sort of down-at-the-heels upper middle-class living in the country. and Proust and Chekhov saw that truth and that interest from different angles. The passivity of the others gives them permission. The truth is that what is interesting about love is how it doesn't work out. Masha.Loneliness can be viewed as humiliation and misfortune as insult. is general no matter the specific version. traveling by jet. Olga. we know exactly who is noble. a gentry saddled with land that no longer interests them. would anyone have the faintest notion of just what kind of bank Madame Arkadina kept her much-discussed securities in? But power. Chekhov offers us none either. who provides us with not one example of a happy marriage in over 4. say. If the great treachery lies in the disparity between what we feel and what we say. in The Seagull. Soliony is unable to respond to any shade of irony. and both Natasha and Soliony are interested in it. In Proust. as a source. and it is odd to think that Chekhov. And though Irena is too young to know it. The wrong people always love each other—bad luck or the telltale sign of a fundamental incapacity to love. And. The typical Chekhovian character longs for what he can neither express nor have. She would have already been there. An embittered fact-monger. Surprisingly. may have come to a similar conclusion. What cannot be given is interpreted as being withheld. fitful leftovers unable to cope with the unfamiliar and the new. and each unrequited wish is one more dream in a universal nightmare. We have to. because the impingement of one upon the other is one of the themes of the novel. We see them as a kind of provincial nobility (partly because we have got to them so often through English accents) whereas they represent the lowest rung of a rural aristocracy. and more than classlessness in certain productions: maids become heroines and stable boys stars. The main difficulty is: One can hardly imagine Irena in Kansas. stretching her hands toward an imaginary New York. Chekhov's plays suffer from classlessness in translation. to be literal and humorless—qualities equally at home in the romantic and the dullard—can be as . Each is allowed to inherit a particular world: domestic tyranny in Natasha's case. That certainly eludes us in Chekhov's case. squires going to seed. And both Proust and Chekhov concern themselves with a social class that is about to be overwhelmed by forces rising from below. the class distinctions are clear. the ultimate dissecter of jealousy.

Vershinin brings a breath of it in the door with him with his arrival. or Soliony as the threat of the play. . There is no wise man in the play for the others to turn to. ultimately. and we pick it up in his last big speech: TUZENBACH: . it is partly the result of. I feel quite elated. Irena's lack of love. as powerless as innocence to fend off its evils. They are the merest echoes of the real thing. As he went on. . but it is the weary urbanity of a disappointed middle-aged man. A lack of worldliness in people forced to live in the world is always a potential source of suffering. to run to for comfort and advice. Chekhov let go of the trigger. The gunshot in Three Sisters. Those people doomed to love late and to be ultimately denied it: like Masha and Vershinin. Really. Irena's cry of "Moscow! . a technical advance occurs in Three Sisters that may account for a greater sounding of the depths. is an axe cutting down trees. as it is in The Cherry Orchard. not a final sounding. and. which suggests that it might. In Chekhov's view. though they walk about as if they were adults. .poisonous as deception or ingrained meanness. Moscow!" at the end of the second act should be a note in a scale. Compared to The Seagull and Uncle Vanya. Something suicidal colors Tuzenbach's death. Chekhov's mastery of the techniques of playwriting may be measured by his use of the gun. is terminal. there is no mother and father for children who remain children. we suspect. change from a young girl into a woman. because it comes in the guise of wisdom. It is not always clear in various editions of the play that these revelations occur over a period of five years. She has not realized. the roles are enigmatically written and need to be played with the finest gradations in order to develop their true flavors and poisons. where the only sound we hear. we get two warped version of it: Natasha's grasping selfishness and the doctor's cynicism. and the price paid for. his one concession to the merciless demands of the stage. unlike the shot in Vanya. . a great deal is lost in characterization and suspense. If Natasha is immediately recognizable as evil. be dispensed with. The time scheme is relatively long. would be another inadequate means of dealing with life. even worldliness. We watch Irena. finally. she is beginning to realize that what she hopes for will remain a dream. I feel as if I were seeing those fir trees and maples and birches for the first time in . perhaps the most deceptive of all. in fact. In Three Sisters. arrive at it by way of lost opportunities and through a web of feeling. What we have in its place is innocence on the one hand and frustration on the other. Worldliness is never an issue in Three Sisters though it might well be. it is farther offstage here than before—not in the next room but at the edge of town. But Tuzenbach's death has further implications.

. Who holds the key to Irena's heart? Someone offstage—like the gun—whom she hopes to meet in Moscow. would he have tried to talk to Soliony or to Dr. Chebutykin's false notion: what does Tuzenbach's death matter? Would Irena be any more lonely with him than without him? Would he have been content living with someone who doesn't love life. . . but it's still swaying in the wind along with the others. under the calendar. swaying in the wind . By the indecisiveness of their actions. it's all dried up. in the end." If Irena had been able to love him. I shall still have a share in life somehow or other.) Your papers. what matters futile. She is neither unhappily married or unhappily unmarried.. it's time. my dear . . Goodbye. the unmeetable ideal who dominates the fantasies of schoolgirls. he has always been a "dried-up (tree) . So their duel. life ought to be with trees like these! (Shouts of 'Ah-oo! Heigh-ho' are heard. The doctor may comfort himself with bogus philosophy and claim that nothing matters but the others tend to confirm not his thesis but its perverse corollary. Tuzenbach never had much of "a share in life". . even a ludicrous footnote. by their inability to deal head-on with what is central to their lives. they make. though in deadly earnest. Of the three sisters. if I die. it seems to me that.) I must go. are on my desk. one suspects. The Baron's sacrifice does little for the cause of either work or love. Chebutykin. whether he had married Irena or not. . Look at that dead tree. in some way mediated the pointlessness of this ending? A poindessness equally vivid. turns out to be an ironic. but even the reality is dreamlike. Neither Tuzenbach nor Soliony ever had it. A person of feeling who has suppressed or never felt the pull of the irrational. They unwittingly prove Dr. he who needs love to make himself feel love-able? Would Irena have joined him in "work"—her idealized version of it— and not be working alone? At what? Reality intrudes upon a pipedream. The key to Irena's heart. tliat locked piano. is lost. "The right one" is how she describes him. What beautiful trees—and how beautiful.. . Olga is the least interesting: nothing romantic attaches to her. (Kisses her hands. when you think of it. . the ones you gave me. They all seem to be looking at me with a sort of inquisitive look and waiting for something. And in the same way.

Now he is not only weak. without heart. and. doesn't undercut her position. in attack. Natasha has found the perfect nest to despoil. ". too hurt. Olga removes Anfisa from the household. another neurotic character. necessity are his three shields. out to win. Olga doesn't defend Anfisa as she should in true opposition. he is torn. The very horrors of . almost painfully." Natasha. wins in spite of what would ordinarily be a great drawback—her affair with Poptopopov. Finally. But Olga is too morally good to let Natasha's rudeness to Anfisa pass without protest—as so many other instances have passed: Natasha's request for Irena's room. invisible throughout. yet those very nerves are the barometric instruments that register ethical weather. In this clash of feelings and wills. Even her open-faced adultery. People prefer to ignore her rather than precipitate a series of crises whose logical end could only be an attack on Andrei. Chekhov points up one of the strangest true facts of emotional life: nothing binds people closer together than mutual unhap-piness. Natasha uses Anfisa as another means of enforcing a pecking order whose main function is to make her status visible. made both to Irena and Andrei. the 80-year-old nurse. and nothing makes those values clearer than Olga's and Natasha's confrontation over Anfisa. She represents a standard of behavior unwillingly. But whether the existence of that suite sways Olga in her decision to become a headmistress is left hanging. to guard his sisters' interests. . whom he fears. Though Natasha and Soliony are the movers and the shakers of the play. too—to get out than to go on fighting a battle already lost. in spite of his shyness. too self-centered. She demands that Anfisa stand up in her presence like a soldier at attention. boringly earnest but secretly admirable. She is too stunned. commented upon by the doctor in the third act. most of all. And that is why Chekhov is sometimes so funny. which is met with a kind of cowed acquiescence. is a spur to its conflicts: Vershinin's suicidal fishwife of a mate. for her nerves are not equal to the moral battles in which she must take part.she is the substitute mother or the spinster-mother—a recognizable type for whom the traditional role is the aunt. comes to detest. a place where Anfisa may stay for the rest of her life. for instance. everything went black. it is motivated by Natasha's fear that she has revealed too much. and yet who controls his life. It is a demand so basically impossible that no immediate way of dealing with it comes to hand. And Andrei cannot be attacked. To Olga. It is easier—and wiser. gone too far. as well as two social classes. There is a tiny suite for her at the school where Olga becomes headmistress. too. Actually. Anfisa deserves the respect accorded the old and the faithful.. Natasha apologizes to Olga but it is an apology without understanding. Andrei was always too weak. She says. He is weak. Affection. Two sets of values are in conflict in Three Sisters. pity. unable to make a clean break with his own misery.

Masha isn't interested in intelligence per se and the doctor can't afford to be. who don't want to hear of her love for Vershinin. She is the one freespeaker of the play. the most interesting of the three sisters. Vershinin's mirror-image is Masha. the certainties become uncertain. Madame Arkadina's first name is Irena. blurting out the facts to her unwilling listeners. not deluded by it. to be played properly. The reigning intelligence of the play is Masha's. a far different thing from being an adolescent like Irena. But we know she is a woman of temperament. as a matter of fact. If he ever let himself know what he knows. even herself. if only by implication. If adultery is a black mark against the detested Natasha. Masha is a lover disillusioned by life. who also always wears black because she is "in mourning for my life. He keeps telling us how impossible it is to bear reality in a play in which everyone else keeps saying how impossible it is to know what reality is. she puts people in impossible positions. She tells us the truth about Natasha from the beginning. don't want to be involved in a family betrayal. she tells us the truth about everything. what must one make of it with the beloved Masha? The categories begin to blur. in the same play. Like the figure of the clown. Olga and Irena. It might have been the doctor's if intelligence were not so dangerous a gift for a man who has taught himself to be disingenuous. infinitely easier to handle. reminding us of her namesake. Masha is morally impeccable in regard to honesty but something of a menace. an interest dramatically mysterious because we know so little about her." (It may be of some interest to note that. Like a lot of truth tellers. whose drunken dream is to make second childhood permanent. She married her schoolmaster when she was a young student and bitterly learns that the man who struck her as superior is at heart a fool. And so he protects himself by a kind of slow-motion destruction.people's lives—short of poverty and disease—are also the most ludicrous things about them. Masha Shamrayev. one sob prolonged a second longer than necessary and we have crossed over to the other side. Masha wears black throughout the play. Even a suggestion of the excessive would be ruinous. Unlike Irena. or living a self-imposed second childhood like the doctor. just as something of the ingenue mars Irena. . it would destroy him. Masha is still something of an impulsive child. One gunshot too many. often to devastating effect. a woman capable of passion and that in itself distinguishes her from Olga. The absurd and the tragic are uncomfortably close. and the wit in black humor. Chekhov teeters on a seesaw. Vanya with a gun! How sad! Yet everyone laughs. has to be played on a hairline. Chekhov. to whom something of the old maid clings. in The Seagull. She is the romantic heart of the play just as Irena is the romantic lead.) Masha is the onlooker who comments or withholds comment.

Masha has Kulighin. one with a real mother. she ends up as an unwitting domestic servant of change. though illegal. no. but her love is romantic. the Reichstag fire. carrying the energetic serum of the new. Under the camouflage of maternal love. she gains possession of Irena's room and has the maskers dismissed. Irena. Whatever she may think. But it was also a vehicle for machismo pride hidden in the trappings of a gentleman's code. She is only a force for progress by being lower-class and on . and in spite of her malevolence. and no mention is ever made of their childlessness. Natasha is creating a true family. Strangely. it seems. has something everyone else lacks: a true position. Starting out as a girl who doesn't even know how to dress. Emotional illness has never found a better front than ethical smugness. but he has the right to call her. has only one goal: to possess a material world. or had fixed their eyes on an invisible figure. for all his absurdity. tearing down a cobweb there. The word "orphan" rings its bell. A subterranean notion percolates at the lowest level of Three Sisters—moral righteousness as the chief disguise of self-interest. and Watergate are extensions of the same basic principle. The duel. And something similar may be said of Soliony. his ridiculousness masks the genuine feelings of a boy—he loves out of dependency but who else is able to love in Three Sisters} Masha. who. and children.In spite of a loveless marriage (from her point of view). a mollycoddle. sticks by her. yes. was a process by which men of Soliony's day still settled matters of honor too refined or too personal for the courts. yet it becomes important in regard to Natasha for it is through the cardinal bourgeois virtue of motherhood that she manipulates the household. where only a semblance of family life had existed before. The Dreyfus Affair. Vershinin and his offstage wife and Natasha-Andrei—are all unhappy. as if they were searching for a phrase impossible to recall. Not one of these acts has a generous motive. Natasha's emotions are as false as her values. Masha and Kulighin do not have children. and knows she will go home with him in the end. The three marriages in the play—Masha-Kulighin. She has nowhere else to go. it is clear to us that what motivates her action is not her love for her children but her love for herself. A matter of no significance. Too emasculated to oppose Masha's affair with Vershinin. dusting a corner here. and would be desperate without her. because her love is romantic. Kulighin ends up with something: he may wander about the stage calling for Masha who never seems to be there. In contrast to the Prozorovs as we first see them. Power is consolidated under the smokescreen of moral urgency. a bower and a scraper. Masha provides no counterweight. he nevertheless loves her. father. A stuffed shirt. The ghosts of family attachments haunt the wanderers crossing the threshholds of rooms. And Natasha.

irrational rage. And so Natasha is stuck among her gallery-mates forever. some strain of the type transfixes the individual into permanent amber. alcoholism. Unfulfilled wishes allow for seemingly random duets that enrich the texture of the play by showing us major characters in minor relationships— psychological side pockets of a sort that cast desperate or ironic lights. a bit of signalling uncharacteristic of Chekhov.the move. for instance. unheroic as they may be. Some predisposition to live. we think of them somewhat in the way we think of Shakespearian heroes. so that. They may languish in life but they refuse to die in art. It is important for Tuzenbach literally to take off his clothes and become a civilian "so plain" that Olga cries when she first sees him. Two questions that can never be answered are asked sotto voce in the play: What would have happened to everyone if Andrei hadn't married Natasha? And: What will Andrei's and Natasha's children be like? But even Natasha is up against something too subtle to control. Theirs might have been the only happy marriage in the play. in their discussion of marriage defend it as an institution and as a source of happiness. Natasha's sash is a tiny repetition of this motif when she reverses roles and comments on Irena's belt in the last act. and Kulighin says he often thinks if he hadn't married Masha. who rarely stoops to a device so crude. they are drawn together by their profession and by a kind of innocent idealism that overrides fact and disappointment. that view is not irrational." we are already talking about the future. always about to take over the house. and with a peculiar insistence—an irony only good plays manage to achieve because it is only on the stage that the human figure is always wholly represented and representative. And in a certain sense. Conquerors have their opposites—losers. and . One of the side-effects of masterpieces is to make their characters as immortal as the works in which they appear. Everyone casts the shadow of age ahead. The soldiers' uniforms hide the same boring civilians underneath. compulsive gambling. And she is about to do so by exploiting bourgeois morality for ugly ends—an old story. it is hard to think of anyone dying in a Chekhov play who isn't actually killed during the action. Olga and Kulighin. he would have married Olga. But the subject is the key to Chekhov's method here: the business of unmasking. It is already clear that the outsider of Act I has become the dominating power of the household. But Natasha is working not in a house of losers but of survivors. One feels their mortality less than their indestructibility. Yet Olga is a spinster and Kulighin a cuckold. In the face of adultery. Both schoolteachers. even the desperate ones. When we speak of "Masha" or "Vanya. convincing candidates for yet another day of hopes and dreams. Something too lively makes Chekhov's characters. She thinks of herself as the mistress of a house that had for too long been in disorder without her.

and he places himself in position as a member of a male trio: Tuzenbach-Soliony-Chebutykin. If that is true. his is one of those fatherly-grandfatherly roles whose sexual. It is precisely Kulighin's marriage to Masha that makes Olga more deeply aware she is a spinster. Chebutykin is onstage. The mother's image is kept alive in Irena. It is through the subtle shifts of Irena's relationship to Chebutykin that we watch Irena grow from an unknowing girl into a woman who is beginning to see the truth. but by being a kind of subliminal lover. Similarly. And this kind of delicate interplay between the loving and the hateful aspects of relationships is re-enforced often by the action of the play itself. her one chance of making a bid for another life. Trusted by the Baron. The random duets are complemented by a series of trios: two are obvious: Masha-Kulighin-Vershinin and Irena-Tuzenbach-Soliony.attempted suicide. affectionate. she is his lifeline now. each equally deluded. Chebutykin are connected by a thread of sympathy and habit—the oldest and the youngest in one another's arms. one of which we watch being covered up. he brings to mind. The doctor has a claim on Irena. Natasha's lover. If Chebutykin was once in love with the Prozorovs' mother. he was her protector in the past. And then there are relationships by omission: Andrei's outpourings to the deaf servant Ferapont. it is Chebutykin's drinking and his smashing of her mother's clock that will finally curdle Irena's affection for him. These offstage-onstage love affairs—one of which we see. Masha's never addressing a single word to Natasha throughout the entire course of the play. he was part of an unacknowledged trio: the mother of the sisters. Olga still believes in the "finer things. and himself. Protopopov. for example. each an invisible figure in a triangle. there is a further irony: the doctor doesn't realize that he has already put that relationship in serious jeopardy. But a third is not: Chebutykin's ambiguous relationship to Irena provides her with an underground suitor. their father. Masha—like her creator—makes the inarticulate eloquent." in the vision of human goodness. who is the Baron's second at the duel in which Irena is deprived of her husband-to-be. who resembles her. Irena and Dr. and narcissistic aspects are impossible to unravel. These uneasy alliances are touching because they rise out of needs that bear little relation to their satisfactions. to protect the continuation of his relationship to Irena. It is Chebutykin. and the determined unawareness of youth providing Irena with a temporary protective barrier. or to the back of the mind. and the sisters' mother. three offstage characters essential to the conflicts of the play: Vershinin's wife. alcohol razzing the facts for the doctor. Chebutykin has some reason for hoping the Baron is killed—namely. .

the no longer available date on which Andrei's papers have to be signed. The sisters are psychologically "stationed" in the house by a force as ineluctable as that which sends the soldiers on their way." Know what? Something already known—time moves people without their moving: the soldiers are forced to go. They isolate Chebutykin in a particular way: the contrast between their trio and the doctor makes time physically visible. If the play were a ballet. one off. . the dreamland of easy solutions. our superimposed stereotype: the three sisters themselves. we have our fixed image of a trio. The object the doctor breaks in his drunkenness is a clock. Irena is not even allowed. The themes of Three Sisters. Time's pervasiveness—its importance—is stressed many times in the play: the announcement of what time the maskers are to arrive. She has met the fate that awaited her all along. the solution false: what could a dreamy schoolgirl and a philosophical Baron contribute to a brickworks? But something more than simple evasiveness frustrates the actors in Three Sisters. so to speak. Her cry of "work. in fact. the very first scene. Irena is part of two other triangles. Having given up Moscow.and one of which we merely hear about—complicate the action and re-enforce the play's design of interlocking triangles. Overall. It is he. The dispatchment of soldiers is an event inevitable in time. Even accepting the "real" is thwarted." the sisters say at the end. who holds the key to the locked piano. And then Irena might be considered part of yet another triangle. is a hopeless cry. Our study in ingenuousness. the hour set for the duel (at one point. in her mind. work. And illusion gathers strength in ratio to time: the longer an idea is believed the more powerful it becomes "If we only knew.. have finer variations. and for good reason. one onstage. the sisters to stay.. its drearier suburbs. between hope and disappointment. There is a grand plan working out its design. The issue is real. the fifteen minutes Natasha allows herself on the sleigh ride with her lover. Irena's compromise in marrying the Baron proves to be impossible. When the battery is moved to Poland—its rumored destination was Siberia—the soldiers and officers reverse positions with the sisters who can never get to Moscow. an ingenuousness that will become educated before our eyes. her dreamed-of "someone" whom she hopes to meet in Moscow is as much of a threat to her happiness with Tuzenbach as Soliony is. the gulf between dream and action. she is joined to Second Lieutenant Fedotik and Rode by the enthusiasms and innocence of youth." echoed by Tuzenbach. the doctor takes out his hunting watch to verify it). moving the players beyond their ability to act. And the military here perform a special function. at some point they would have a divertissement to themselves. "If we could only know .

Vershinin receives letters. Masha gives up the piano. place is more subdy emphasized. age—the eighty years of Anfisa's life. Irena is a locked piano. they want to go back. in time. simply. What does her verse mean? Where has she heard it? She says nothing for the first fifteen minutes of the play. . but not as a requital to hope. where? A country town. or at least what is realistic about it always suggests the allusive. Even music and poetry. she feels—when we first see her—that any communication would be a betrayal. As the minutes tick themselves off. even by omission. The setting is . short of what is necessary. the play peculiarly divides itself on sexual grounds: the men want to stay. They do. Andrei plays the violin. The repeated sounding of "Moscow!" is more than the never-to-be-reached Eldorado of the work or its lost Eden. and one set would do anything. The play is nostalgic. Memory lures them. A whistled phrase is a signal from Vershinin to .which is both an anniversary and a name day. The word "Siberia" runs its little chill through the kitchen. On this score. there are no explorers in Three Sisters. What Masha remembers most vividly. the women to go. she hums a little tune. The women want to go. and whose betrayal she cannot forgive. What cannot be remembered takes on importance. in opposite directions. . remembers a line of verse she can't quite place. Back to a life they once lived (they think). is herself. Enraged beyond speech. But it is the least realistic of Chekhov's plays. are forms of conspiracy: they reveal me sensibility she has forfeited for the stupidity of the world she lives in. it is a symbol of distance itself. Birth and death. Natasha's newest baby is wheeled back and forth in a carriage. for one set of people would do anything not to be removed from where they are (a form of self-miring in present as if it were the past). Kulighin has his notebooks. a bit of counterpoint to Tuzenbach's death. more than that. introduced in the anniversary-name day occasion of the first scene. events infinitely postponable. are more sharply contrasted and connected in the last. Time sounds a recurrent note in Three Sisters. action is always being performed. we have. one image connecting with or piling up on a similar one. the journey never to be taken. no wanderers ready to set forth for the unknown. She has given up the piano. somehow. it begins to have the force of a prediction in the same way that the unconscious. because they evoke memory. to be removed. the sisters keep hoping problems will solve themselves. The idea of a journey hovers in the air and charges the atmosphere—the journey never taken. Deluded into thinking time is eternal. that past or future in space from which the characters are forever barred. unable to bring significant material to the surface. certainly not the one they are living. In between. determines future behavior. As for a brave new world. Andrei is translating an English novel. and Masha's halting bit of verse clues us in.

the turning point of the act and the breaking point of the play. Olga gives it up for an old woman. its victims huddled downstairs. Natasha has invaded the place of privacy. Still the shadow of the flames races up the walls. of the soldiers going to two possible destinations: Poland (where we are still within the limits of the civilized and the credible) and Siberia (where we move into the realm of fear and fantasy). the literal displacement. the doctor bangs on the floor—his little Morse code. inside and out. The fire presents us with a true Apocalypse. and Anfisa moving out. Each outlasts a wish and is forced to go on living a life without any particular pleasure or savor. Each sister is given an opportunity for moral or emotional expansion and is finally enclosed in the limited world of the possible. Anfisa. The sway of compulsion is important to the play because compulsion suggests what must be limited: to be compelled is the opposite of being able to make a free choice. The issue of Anfisa is the scale that balances the strengths and weaknesses of Olga and Natasha. any more than the room is now either Olga's or Irena's. They have one thing in common: dislocation. food are commandeered. And what is allusive about the play suggests the thematically symbolic. The disaster outside is the general counterpart of the specific horrors within. And these three decisions prepare us for a fourth: the removal of Anfisa from the household. But the small wreck and the large are equally devastating. crying. In a psychological terror scene the fate of the Prozorovs is decided. (Is that why the first thing we see is a room within a room?) But two crucial moves. Where do people move? From room to room. People can really be forced out of their houses. and we get to know that because it is after this scene that Olga moves out to become headmistress and during it that Irena decides to marry the Baron and Masha to sleep with Vershinin. The webs of character obscure—and enrich—the scaffold of action. they can be made to move by events beyond their power to predict or to control. beds. These networks are fine meshes thrown over the realistic surface of the play. The sense of danger. Irena and Olga doubling up in one bedroom. We are also in Olga's and Irena's bedroom. That is not as simple a decision as it first appears.Masha or vice versa. a battlefield. the rescuers. Irena gives her room up for a baby. And there are enough examples of the irrational in the air to make the fearful and the uncontrollable real: Vershinin's wife's suicide . For the burning houses are no longer truly houses. a hairsbreadth away from the cozy. Natasha's taking over of the house is played against the bigger landscape of the fire destroying the adjacent houses. the source of identity. lost souls wandering about. for Anfisa is the basic—and the last—link with whatever living tradition ties the sisters to their childhoods. becomes actual in the fire of Act 3. are overshadowed by the movement. Blankets. trying to keep the contagion from spreading. We are in a disaster area.

admission. "Three Ways of Learning to Live without Hope. philosophy offers a contrary alternative: in letting go of an ideal." It is a drama of induced stupors and wounds and its tagged-on hopefulness is the one ming about it . the play is full of surprises. or because of it. ridiculous joke? Realistically?—as if in the face of hopelessness it were possible to conceive a Utopia? Only Hamlet offers so many unresolved possibilities. Three Sisters. the unloved. without joy. to become the contrary of what they are. trio for trio? Is Vershinin's vision of the world to come just another more cosmic version of the never-to-be-attained Moscow of Irena's dreams? There are overtones and undertows. And Chekhov. The play teeters on an ambiguity: if coming to terms with reality is a sign of psychological maturity. might properly be subtitled. More clearly than in any of Chekhov's other plays. the audience depart. Yet the curtain has to come down. The departed. loving. Natasha's temper. beautiful. the disappointed—all these are pale imitations of true oblivion. the sisters may be depriving themselves—or are being deprived—of the one thing that makes life worth living. because he brings about what we are most afraid of: death. and can't understand why—an unusual.attempts. she cannot console herself with the optimistic platitudes of Irena or shore herself up with the resigned Puritanism of Olga. Soliony. Andrei's gambling. fantasy imbues consciousness with a strength similar to the power of dreams in the unconscious. And Soliony. Masha is most honest about this and most hopeless. the doctor's alcoholism. These positive-negative aspects of the play are not easily resolved. Ambivalence enriches the action but fogs the ending. or merely an instrumental little mirror-play of the sisters themselves. and far from simpleminded. In spite of its faultless construction. in spite of its ambiguously worded life-may-be-better-in-the-future ending. Is the trio of Irena's suitors—the doctor. and Tuzenbach—an ironic. Could the doctor have saved Tuzenbach in the last act? Does he let him die to ensure his own continuing relationship to Irena? Is there a homosexual undercurrent in the relationship between Soliony and Tuzenbach? It was suggested in the Olivier-Bates version of the play. The sisters long to accomplish the opposite of what they achieve. He knows how awful she is. our capital case. Irena is about to rush off to her brick factory and Olga to her schoolroom. Soliony is the darkest cloud of all. The problems Three Sisters raises have been presented to us with a complexity that allows for no easy solutions. Three Sisters is enigmatic—it would be hard to say just how the last speeches should be played—sadly. for instance. Masha lives with and within herself—a black person in a black dress. and yet he loves her. keeps adding complications. almost up to the last moment. Andrei's moving and unexpected speech about Natasha's vulgarity. bitterly?—as a kind of cosmic.

a stately frieze longing for the activity of movement. human error. upbringing fix the sisters to separate stakes. desperately. the temperature of a nursery—the force of the domestic. What we hear in Three Sisters are the twin peals of longing and departure. . Watchers watching life go by. fatally. Social class and the accident of sex work hand in hand to defeat desire and ambition. the giving of gifts. A play about women—men are strangely absent even in the moment of their presence— its author clearly saw what lay at its most profound level: helplessness. to stay exactly as they were. A play of girlhood. the gambling house and the office—male institutions and trimmings—are shadowy and have nothing of the power and the immediacy of preparations for a meal. the monstrous. . The drums and fifes offstage. The Brahmsian overcast of sadness that darkens the action—little outbursts of joy and gaiety always too soon stifled or abandoned—helps to make what is essentially a terrible indictment of life bearable. hoping for the best. And behind them we hear the clangings of the extreme: the childish. or contrived trait associated with. . getting the worst. but not only feminine loss. whether frustrated and virginal. women. human weakness. finally. the insane. . and sometimes promulgated by. it is a play of loss. . and. in their case. or fulfilled and turning sour. which is. a real. the batteries that occasionally go off. They go on. social. though that strikes the deepest note." as "If we could only move ." Temperament. People use each other in the play sentimentally. they will ever do anything else.that doesn't ring true. and there is no reason to assume that. They are amplified by human ineptitude. breeding. that is the central image of Three Sisters. given the choice. Not so much "If we had only known . Sadness is at least not hopelessness.

structure. in fact. What was it that the "modern" drama replaced? What was it that the multifarious types of traditional dramatic fiction. what were the characteristics that all these shared that were so decisively displaced by the new elements of the "modern"? It was not what had so long been regarded as the hallmarks of the truly correct and classical form of drama: the Aristotelian unities of time. It can be argued that he. and action. the medieval mystery plays and the Spanish theatre of the "siglo d'oro." Shakespeare and commedia dell'arte. had fundamentally in common—from Greek tragedy and comedy to the well-made play of the nineteenth century. After all. © 1985 by Toby W. do have a number of characteristics in common. Restoration comedy and the well-made play. medieval drama. and the Romantics had superseded those by constructing rambling. however different they might appear. place. the Elizabethans. Clyman.) . epic plot-lines. But Greek drama and the French classical tradition. and technique of dramatic writing at the end of the nineteenth century. occupies a key position at the point of transition between a millennial convention of "traditional" and the emergence of "modern" drama.MARTIN ESSLIN Chekhov and the Modern Drama Anton Chekhov was one of the major influences in the emergence of a wholly new approach to the subject matter. Foremost among them is the assumption that the audience must be explicidy and clearly told what the principal characters' state of mind (From A Chekhov Companion.

or no scenery at all. Dramatic speech was deeply influenced by. That the theatre should attempt to present a picture of the world as it really is never occurred to the theoreticians or practitioners of pre-modern drama. Yet Zola who first formulated the theoretical concept of the theatre of Naturalism and Ibsen who was the first to gain gradual acceptance for it— through scandal and the violent partisanship of radicals—found it very difficult to liberate themselves from some of the old conventions. in his socially oriented drama. combined with the rise of the scientific world view. or the use of confidants in French classical drama. and obeyed the rules of. Although Ibsen did away with the soliloquy and the "aside. and as it was taught in the schools from the time of Socrates to the nineteenth century and beyond (in the United States. The theatre was an art—and art was artifice. stage environments of the greatest possible . a laboratory in which the laws governing the interaction of human beings and social classes could be studied. painting eliminated pubic hair in nudes and showed crowds of people in neatly stylised groupings). for example. Similar ideas of a clear. with painted scenery. hydraulic stage machinery. according to a firmly established set of conventions (just as. and conclusion) also governed the construction of the plot from exposition through complication and reversal to a definite and conclusive ending. indeed through "asides" uttered in the presence of other characters who. in public speaking courses in some colleges and universities to this day). or. the classical tradition of rhetoric as practiced and formulated by Demosthenes. and so on) which. development. or lit by candles. by convention. Even more important perhaps was another basic assumption that underlay all language used in drama: that what a character said was not only what he or she meant to say. quite apart from the practical impossibility of creating a true facsimile of human life under the technological conditions of a stage in the open air. The theatre could only present the essential aspects of the human condition. compressed and idealised. at any given moment in the play. were assumed to remain unaware of them. transparent structure (derived from the rhetorical rules of statement of theme. led to the idea that the stage could not only reproduce an accurate image of "real life." although he tried to create. It was the great change in the technology of theatre (with gas and later electrical lighting. and Quintilian. but that he or she was expressing it as clearly and eloquently as possible. whether through the monologues of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans that are directly addressed to the audience." but should also become like an instrument of scientific inquiry into human behaviour.

He not only renounced the convention of characters who constantly explain themselves to the audience. As Clement Scott. and people exactly as they are. and in the meantime their fortune is made or their life ruined. or emancipated. People eat their meals. hanging themselves or declaring their love for each other. For it was not easy to work out all the implications of the endeavour to present real "slices of life" on the stage. "Granted all these people are egotists. On stage everything should be just as complicated and just as simple as in life. As early as 1881. he tended to adhere to the convention of the well-made play. or agnostics. put it: The old theory of playwriting was to make your story or your study as simple as possible. As a natural scientist and physician. but he also discarded the last remnants of the plot structure of the well-made play. his failure to let his characters explain themselves to the audience mystified even intelligent playgoers. talk about the weather and play cards. Rather they are engaged in eating. It took Chekhov some fifteen years before he himself succeeded in bringing this theoretical program to full practical realisation and fruition with The Seagull. But Ibsen loves to mystify. Ibsen's analytical plots developed toward a climax with the relentless logic and compressed time-scale of French classical drama. he formulated his ideas as follows: In real life people do not spend every minute in shooting each other. or what not. in reviewing a performance of Rosmersholm in 1891. that . Chekhov rebelled against the artificiality of the conventional dramatic structure. when he was embarking on his first full-length play. Those who earnestly desire to do him justice and to understand him keep on saying to themselves. or atheists. He is as enigmatic as the Sphynx. They don't devote all their time to trying to say witty things." It was Chekhov who took the decisive step beyond Ibsen. drinking. which he discarded (the untitled manuscript. for one. eat.realism—rooms with the fourth wall removed—structurally. The hitherto accepted plan of a writer for the stage was to leave no possible shadow of doubt concerning his characterisation. still I can't understand why he does this or she does that. Life should be exactly as it is. One ought to write a play in which people come and go. It meant. flirting and talking about trivialities—and that is what should be happening on stage. usually referred to as Platonov) after it had been rejected by Ermolova. Even so.

the action on stage would have to get as near as possible to "real elapsed time," that is, that an hour on stage would have to correspond to an hour of "real life." How could one tell a story with a scope larger than that of one-acts (such as Chekhov's own The Proposal and The Bear) by adhering to this principle? The solution that emerged was to present a number of significant episodes showing the characters and their situation in detail and in as near to "real time" as possible in widely separated segments extracted from the flow of time (usually four acts)—so that the events of months and years became visible by implication through the way in which the situation in each vignette differed from the previous one. Thus, the relentless forward pressure of the traditional dramatic form was replaced by a method of narration in which it was the discontinuity of the images that told the story, by implying what had happened in the gaps between episodes. Even more decisive, however, was the demand that the characters should not be shown in unnaturally "dramatic" and climactic situations but pursuing the trivial occupations of real life—eating, drinking, making small talk, or just sitting around reading the newspaper. The state of mind of the characters, the emotional tensions between them, the subterranean streams of attraction and repulsion, love and hate, now frequently had to be indicated indirectly, so that the audience would be able to apprehend them by inference. In other words, the playwright had to supply the signs from which the spectators, having been turned into equivalents of Sherlock Holmes, would deduce the meaning of seemingly trivial exchanges, and, indeed, the meaning of silences, words that remained unspoken. This, after all, is what happens in real life: we meet people and from the cut of their clothes, the accents of their speech, the tone of voice with which they address remarks to us about the weather, we have to deduce their character or their intentions toward us. In our small ways each of us has to be a semiotician decoding the signs supplied to us by our fellow human beings and the environment. Another consequence of this program for a new drama was the abandonment of the central figure—the hero—of the drama. There are no subsidiary characters in real life, no Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns whose presence in the play is merely dictated by the requirements of the plot and who therefore remain uncharacterised. In the traditional drama such characters were emotionally expendable. It was the hero or heroine alone with whom the spectator was meant to identify, from whose point of view he or she was supposed to experience the action, living through, vicariously, the emotions felt by such central characters. The new drama required a far more detached, clinical attitude that would allow the audience to look at all the characters with the same cool objectivity. Characters viewed objectively, from the outside rather than through

identification, tend to appear comic. If we identified ourselves with the man who slips on a banana peel we would feel his pain; if we viewed him from the outside we could laugh at his misfortune. The characters in Chekhov's mature plays, in which he succeeded in putting his program into practice, are thus essentially comic characters, even if what happens to them (frustration in love, loss of an estate, inability to move to Moscow) is sad or even tragic. Thus, Chekhov's program for a new approach to drama implied the emergence of tragicomedy as the dominant genre. Chekhov's conflict with Stanislavskii about the production of his plays centered around this demand for a cool, sharp objectivity that would preserve the essentially comédie form of the tragic events, while Stanislavskii wanted to milk the tragic elements to produce an elegiac and as Chekhov felt "larmoyant" effect. The demand for absolute truth, full conformity with the randomness and triviality of "real life," from which Chekhov started out, was clearly inspired by the same positivist, scientific ideas that had led Zola to proclaim the program of Naturalism. But, paradoxically, the resolve to reproduce the casualness and triviality of ordinary life led to a higher rather than a lesser degree of "artificiality." For, if meaning was to emerge from the depiction of people pursuing commonplace activities, if the spectator was to be enabled to deduce significance from the multitude of signifiers offered by decoding what they revealed, every move, every word, every object had to be carefully planned and designed as a bearer of such meaning. In other words, as real randomness would be totally meaningless, it was merely the appearance of randomness and triviality that had to be evoked by creating a structure of which every element contributed to the production of meaning. This type of drama thus required a far greater degree of skill in weaving an intricate texture of great complexity which could, nevertheless, add up to the intended effect and meaning. This also was the reason why Chekhov so strenuously objected to Stanislavskii's overloading his productions with a clutter of details not indicated in the text. The proliferation of off-stage sound effects and other naturalistic detail brought in for the sake of mere "reality" smothered the structure of the signifiers Chekhov had carefully written into his scripts. The dense texture of signifying detail within each segment of seemingly "real time" and the building of a sense of larger time-spans through a discontinuous four-act structure require a very high degree of control over the expressive means at the disposal of the playwright, a sense of rhythm and orchestration that would unify the seemingly casual and disconnected elements and transform the text into a texture as complex as that of the counterpoint of an orchestral score. Thus, the program that started from a

rejection of "the poetic" on stage paradoxically led to a new kind of more complex poetry. Chekhov himself, in his acrimonious discussions with Stanislavskii, repeatedly insisted that the theatre was an art, striving to produce the appearance of reality, but it was never to be confused with reality. On the other hand, the cold, objective nature of this art makes it impossible for the playwright to take sides or to offer solutions to the problems posed in his or her work: You are right to demand that an author take a conscious stock of what he is doing, but you are confusing two concepts: answering the questions and formulating them correctly. Only the latter is required of an author. It is the duty of the court to formulate the questions correctly, but it is up to each member of the jury to answer them according to his own preference. Chekhov's drama thus rejects all moralising, just as it eschews the neat solutions that were required by the playwrights of traditional drama. With him "open form" entered the theatre. It took a long time for Chekhov's revolutionary innovations to be recognised, let alone generally accepted outside Russia, where the successful production of his plays by Stanislavskii's and Nemirovich-Danchenko's Moscow Art Theatre (however much Chekhov himself disagreed with them) had established him as a major playwright. In Russia Gorkii was deeply influenced by Chekhov's technique, although his plays were far more partisan and explicitly political than Chekhov's. But it was only after the discomfiture of the revolutionary avant-garde and the introduction of socialist realism as the leading aesthetic doctrine in the Soviet Union in the 1930s that the Moscow Art Theatre was elevated into the model for Soviet drama, and Chekhov became the official model, at least as far as the superficial and external aspects of his "realistic" technique were concerned. In spirit the stereotype of the contemporary Russian "realistic" play, with its openly propagandistic message, is far removed from Chekhov. Western Europeans found it difficult at first to understand Chekhov's intentions. Early performances of Uncle Vania in Berlin (1904) and Munich (1913), The Seagull in Berlin (1907), Glasgow (1909), and Munich (1911) and The Cherry Orchard in London (1911) remained without lasting echo. There was one major exception: Bernard Shaw was so deeply impressed that he modeled his own Heartbreak House (1919) on The Cherry Orchard. He clearly saw the parallel between the death of the Russian upper classes and the inevitable decline of English society.

After World War I, tours by the Moscow Art Theatre to Germany, France, and the United States spread the Russian playwright's fame. In France the Pitoeff family, exiled from Russia, consolidated his reputation, but there too they only gained general acceptance for him after World War II. It was in England that Chekhov first achieved recognition as a classic and one of the great innovators of drama. A production of The Cherry Orchard by J. B. Fagan (with the young John Gielgud as Trofimov) at the Oxford Playhouse in January 1925 was so successful that the play was transferred to London and ran there for several months. Yet the real breakthrough for Chekhov came with a series of productions of his late plays by the Russian emigre director Theodore Komisarjevsky at the small Barnes Theatre in London in 1926. By the end of me 1930s Chekhov had become a recognised classic in the English theatre. Since then Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Chekhov have been regarded as the standard classics of the English repertoire. No British actor or actress can lay claim to major status without having successfully portrayed the principal parts created by these playwrights. The reasons for Chekhov's spectacular rise to the status of a classic in Britain are complex. The fact that pre-revolutionary Russia and England were both societies in which the upper classes spent a great deal of their time in country houses populated by a large cast of family members and guests may well have something to do with it. In these plays theatre audiences in England recognised their own way of life. Similarly, Chekhov's use of "subtext" has its affinities with the English penchant for "understatement." English audiences may thus have been more skilled than those of other countries in the art of decoding subtle nuances of utterance. The fact remains that actors like Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, and Alec Guinness made Chekhov their own and that he has remained one of the most performed standard authors over a period of 50 years. That an author so favoured by major actors would have an influence on the writing of plays in Britain was inevitable. Among the many direct, if shallow, imitators of the Chekhovian style are playwrights like N. C. Hunter (1908-1971) whose Waters of the Moon (1951) scored a big success by providing fat parts for "Chekhovian" actors; Enid Bagnold (1889-1981); or Terence Rattigan (1911-1977) who used Chekhovian techniques in plays like The Browning Version (1948) and Separate Tables (1954). In the United States Chekhov's influence spread indirecdy through the success of Stanislavskii's approach to the technique of acting, not least through the efforts of Chekhov's nephew Michael Alexandrovich Chekhov (1891-1955) who had emigrated to England in 1927 and moved to America in 1939. Undoubtedly playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller,

William Inge, or Clifford Odets absorbed at least some of Chekhov's ideas about the "subtext" and the emotional overtones of seemingly trivial conversation. Yet to look for the direct influence of Chekhov on individual playwrights is perhaps futile. His real influence, though mainly indirect, goes far deeper and is far more pervasive. For he was one of the major innovators who changed the basic assumptions upon which the drama of our time (and "drama" nowadays includes the dramatic material of the cinema, television and radio) is founded. Many influences, often of a seemingly contradictory nature, have shaped present approaches to drama. George Buechner (1813-1837), also a physician and natural scientist, but almost certainly unknown to Chekhov as he was only being rediscovered at the turn of the century, in many ways anticipated the technique of discontinuous plot development and the use of a type of dialogue that was both documentary and poetically orchestrated. The Naturalists—Ibsen, Strindberg, Gerhart Hauptmann, Arthur Schnitzler —eliminated the conventions of the soliloquy and aside; Frank Wedekind was a pioneer of dialogue in which people talked past each other, neither listening nor answering their interlocutor's points; the German Expressionists, following the lead of Strindberg in the last phase of his career, shifted the plane of the action from the external world to the inner life of the leading character so that the stage became a projection of his or her fantasies and hallucinations; Bertolt Brecht rebelled against the theatre as a house of illusions, the tight construction of continuous plot-lines and developed his own, discontinuous "epic" technique of storytelling; Antonin Artaud tried to devalue the word as an element of drama; and the "Absurdist" playwrights of the 1950s and 1960s (Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco) created a non-illusionistic theatre of concrete stage metaphors. Many of these tendencies seem to be in direct contradiction to Chekhov's program of a theatre that would faithfully reproduce the appearance of real life, its casualness and its seeming triviality. Yet, paradoxically, his example and his practice contributed a great deal to developments that, at first sight, may seem very far removed from his ideas and intentions. Above all, Chekhov, more than any other innovator of drama, established the concept of an "open" form. By putting the onus of decoding the events on the stage on the spectators, by requiring them to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning as well as the ultimate message of the play, and by avoiding to send them home with a neatly packaged series of events in their minds, Chekhov anticipated Brecht's "Verfremdungseffekt" (which he may well himself have inherited from the Russian formalists' concept of "defamiliarisation," in turn directly related to Chekhov's practice). And at the

other end of the spectrum a play like Beckett's Waiting for Godot carries Chekhov's technique of characters in apparently idle and trivial chatter to its extreme, creating a dramatic structure without action and completely open-ended. Here the trappings of Realism have fallen away, but the Chekhovian principle remains triumphant. Chekhov's renunciation of high-flown poetic language and rhetorical explicitness (which went much further than Ibsen's attempts at realistic dialogue) produced another paradoxical consequence: the need to orchestrate the seemingly casual conversations, and the silences and hesitations in the characters' speech produced a new kind of poetry, a lyricism in which the rhythms and pauses coalesced into a new harmony. This created an emphasis on mood, on atmosphere, that was very different from the conscious lyricism of Symbolists like Maurice Maeterlinck or Neo-Roman-tics like the young Hugo von Hofmannsthal, a texture of often bitter ironies and counterpoints between the overt meaning and the subtext. Chekhov's practise opened the way for a new concept of the "poetic" in the theatre, what Jean Cocteau has called the "poetry of the stage" as against mere "poetry on the stage": the formally prosaic statement that acquires its poetry from the context in which it is pronounced, its position within the rhythmic and semantic structure of a situation. The new type of "lyricism" has become the main source of "the poetic" in contemporary drama, not only in stage plays but also in the cinema, where a host of great directors, from Jean Renoir and Marcel Carne to Antonioni and Robert Altmann have extracted poetry from the trivial dialogue and objects of real life situations. By reducing the importance of overt action and "plot" Chekhov created a new focus of attention: the situation itself, the conjunction of characters, the subtle use of seemingly incongruous detail (like the map of Africa on the wall of Uncle Vania's study), the sparing use of sound (like the strumming of a guitar) put the emphasis on the complex audiovisual image of the stage and made the stage itself into a poetic metaphor. Chekhov was one of the pioneers in moving the theatre away from putting its main emphasis on action in the simple, literal sense. A great deal is still happening in the seemingly static stage images of Chekhov, behind the apparently trivial dialogue. But it is complex and covert rather than on the surface and direct. Much of contemporary drama derives from this use of ambivalence and irony. Sonia's last words in Uncle Vania in a seemingly idyllic situation, with Maria Vassilevna working on her pamphlet, Marina knitting, Telegin softly playing his guitar, and Sonia herself kneeling before Vania, "We shall rest!" seem hopeful and the situation idyllic. Yet, at the same time, Sonia may not really believe what she is saying, and the idyllic situation enshrines, in reality, the

horror of endless boredom and futility. Compare this with the last line of Waiting for Godot: "Let's go," followed by the stage direction "(They do not move)" to see a much reduced, almost minimalist, version of the same technique. Chekhov's refusal to depart from the mere objective delineation of people and events in their inherent inner contradictions and ambivalences made him the pioneer of another main characteristic of contemporary drama: the emergence of the tragicomic as its prevailing mode. That the "death of tragedy" derives from the loss of moral certainties and metaphysically grounded principles is clear enough. Chekhov was one of the first to see this and to embody its consequences in devising a new genre of drama. As Friedrich Duerrenmatt has argued, modern people are far too deeply enmeshed in society's organisational framework ever to exercise the heroic privilege of assuming full and proud responsibility for their acts, to allow their misfortunes ever to be more man mere mishaps, accidents. Chekhov was the first to cast his drama in this mode of tragicomic ambivalence; the three sisters' inability to get to Moscow, the ruination of their brother's talents, the death of Tuzenbakh—all are prime examples of just such socially determined inevitabilities, such mishaps and accidents. Vania's failure to hit the professor is comic, although the situation is tragic. But even if Vania did shoot the professor it would still not be tragedy, merely a regrettable incident. If Harold Pinter speaks of his plays as being meant to be funny up to that point where they cease to be funny, he was formulating a perception of the tragicomic that directly derives from Chekhov. There is only a small step from Chekhov's images of a society deprived of purpose and direction to the far more emphatic presentation of a world deprived of its "metaphysical dimension" in the plays of Beckett, Genet, Adamov, or Ionesco. Admittedly, the dramatists of the Absurd have left the solid ground of reality behind and have taken off into dreamlike imagery and hallucinatory metaphor. Yet it can be argued that Chekhov himself, by his very realism, blazed even that trail. In creating so convincing a picture of the randomness and ambivalence of reality, he, more than any other dramatist before him, opened up the question about the nature of reality itself. If every member of the audience has to find his or her own meaning of what he or she sees by decoding a large number of signifiers, each spectator's image of the play will be slightly different from that which his or her neighbour sees, and will thus become one's own private image, not too far removed from being one's own private dream or fantasy. The Theatre of the Absurd merely builds on that foundation by posing, less subtly, more insistently than Chekhov, the question: "What is it that I am seeing happening before my eyes?"

The Brechtian theatre, insisting as it does on the solid material basis of the world, also requires the audience to decode the signifiers of its parables by themselves. It also derives its poetic force from the ironic juxtaposition of ambivalent and contradictory signs to produce an ultimately tragicomic world view. While it is almost certain that Brecht was not consciously or directly influenced by Chekhov, his ideas pervaded the atmosphere of theatrical and literary modernism and, indeed, more complex lines of interconnectedness can be traced. Brecht's "Verfrem-dungseffekt," as has already been mentioned, owed a great deal to the Russian formalists' concept of ostranenie (defamiliarisation). Moreover, Brecht was a great admirer of Vsevolod Meierkhold, who, before he broke away from Stanislavskii and the Moscow Art Theatre had been the first Treplev in Stanislavskii's Seagull and the first Tuzenbakh in the Three Sisters (it is said that Chekhov had written the part for him). Meierkhold's modernism thus derives indirectly from, and is an extrapolation into more daring innovation of, the demand for ruthless objectivity and open forms in the theatre. Meierkhold once sent Chekhov a photograph of himself, inscribed: "From the pale-faced Meierkhold to his God." The greatest and most directly discernible impact of Chekhov's innovation on the modern theatre, however, is undoubtedly to be found in the field of dialogue. The concept of the "subtext" has become so deeply embedded in the fabric of basic assumptions of contemporary playwriting and acting that, literally, there can be hardly a playwright or actor today who does not unquestioningly subscribe to it in his or her practice. Chekhov's ideas have not only been assimilated, but they have also been further developed by dramatists like Harold Pinter, whose use of pauses, silences, and subterranean currents of meaning clearly derives from Chekhov but goes far beyond him in the exploration of the implied significance of a whole gamut of speech-acts, from the use of trade jargon to that of tautology, repetition, solecisms, and delayed repartee. Pinter's linguistic experiments, so clearly derived from Chekhov, have engendered a host of followers in Europe and the United States (where perhaps David Mamet is the foremost practitioner of this type of linguistic exploration). The concept of the "subtext" has also led to attempts to bring onto the stage characters whose linguistic ability is so low that they are unable to express themselves clearly. Here the playwright, through the rudiments of a vocabulary they may still possess, has to show what goes on in their minds and emotions. The English playwright Edward Bond, in a play like Saved (1965), made extremely successful use of a technique clearly derived from Chekhov, by making fragments of illiterate speech and silences reveal the characters' thoughts and feelings.

above all. and. to the great moderns—Ibsen and Strindberg. Lope de Vega. the drama of the century that opened so soon after his early death. Chekhov's determination to look at the world not merely with the cool objectivity of the scientist but also with the courage to confront the world in all its absurdity and infinite suffering (without flinching or self-pity and with a deep compassion for humanity in its ignorance and helplessness) led him to anticipate. Corneille. in the long run. That is the secret of his profound and all-pervading influence on the literature. have also become masters of this type of highly laconic dialogue in which silences and half-sentences are used to uncover the mental processes of tongue-tied individuals. the mood and climate of our own time. its originality and innovative influence may well prove much greater. Calderon. but.In the German-speaking world the Bavarian playwrights Franz Xaver Kroetz and Martin Sperr. far ahead of all his contemporaries. Molière. It is only since the end of World War II that Chekhov has been received. into the canon of the world's greatest dramatists that extends from the Greek tragedians to Shakespeare. . Racine. mature plays may be much smaller than theirs. His output of only four major. the Austrians Wolfgang Bauer and Peter Turrini. by general consensus. Today Chekhov may well be regarded as being even more important and influential than Ibsen and Strindberg.

they were termed "realistic" primarily because they seemed to focus on fragments of everyday reality. story as minimal lyricized sketch rather than as elaborately plotted tale." and were often said to be lacking every element which constitutes a really good short story. atmosphere as an ambiguous mixture of both external details and psychic projections. they were characterized as "sketches. However. The ultimate result of these characteristics is the modernist and postmodernist focus on reality itself as a fictional construct and the contemporary trend to make fictional assump(From A Chekhov Companion. © 1985 by Toby W. The primary characteristics of this new hybrid form are: character as mood rather than as either symbolic projection or realistic depiction. Consequently." "slices of life. at the same time. Clyman. other critics saw that Chekhov's ability to dispense with a striking incident. MAY Chekhov and the Modem Short Story Anton Chekhov's short stories were first welcomed in England and America just after the turn of the century as examples of late nineteenth-century realism.CHARLES E." "cross-sections of Russian life. his impressionism. and a basic impressionistic apprehension of reality itself as a function of perspectival point of view.) . and his freedom from the literary conventions of the highly plotted and formalized story marked the beginnings of a new or "modern" kind of short fiction that combined the specific detail of realism with the poetic lyricism of romanticism. but since they did not embody the social commitment or political convictions of the realistic novel.

in turn. Mirsky's understanding of the Chekhovian style. to an apparently realistic episode in which plot is subordinate to "as-if-real" character. Character as Mood The most basic problem in understanding the Chekhovian shift to the "modern" short story involves a new definition of the notion of "story" itself." and the Chekhovian narrative method. which Mirsky says "allows nothing to 'happen. "the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside. but rather focuses on a revelatory break-up of the rhythm of everyday reality. Aiken.' but only smoothly and imperceptibly to 'become'. It is wrapped in an atmosphere." If. we find his characters have a strange way of evaporating. which. by its very shortness. enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze. The short story is too short to allow for character to be created by the kind of dense detail and social interaction through duration typical of the novel." Such a notion of character as mood and story as a hazy "eventless" becoming is characteristic of the modern artistic understanding of story." This apprehension of character as mood is closely related to D. says. Conrad Aiken was perhaps the first critic to recognize the secret of Chekhov's creation of character. we can see how . cannot deal with the dense-ness of detail and the duration of time typical of the novel. for to his story-teller Marlowe." Once we see that the short story. in which characters are functions in an essentially code-bound parabolic or ironic structure. Chekhov "manipulates feeling or mood." Aiken says that whereas Poe manipulates plot and James manipulates thought." More recently. Noting that Chekhov's stories offer an unparalleled "range of states of consciousness. which he described as "bathed in a perfect and uniform haze. However. Primarily this shift to the modern is marked by a transition from the romantic focus on a projective fiction. involves not only a new understanding of the kind of "experience" to be embodied in story but a new conception of character as well.tions and techniques both the subject matter and theme of the novel and the short story. S. Eudora Welty has suggested that the first thing we notice about the short story is "mat we can't really see the solid outlines of it—it seems bathed in something of its own. "it is because our view of them was never permitted for a moment to be external—we saw them only as infinitely fine and truthful sequences of mood. It is like Conrad's conception in Heart of Darkness. it should be noted that Chekhov's fictional figures are not realistic in the way that characters in the novel usually are.

Bernard Malamud. Ernest Hemingway. a certain tone of significance. what unifies the modern short story is an atmosphere. it may be the subjectivity of the teller. As Georg Lukacs has suggested. which. is the primary focus of the modern short story." Rather than plot. There is no way to distinguish between these two views of the source of the so-called "modern" short story. The Minimal Story The most obvious similarity between the stories of Chekhov and those . Katherine Mansfield.the form. as John Dewey makes clear. it expresses the ultimate meaning of all artistic creation as mood. to use Henry James's phrase. seems to have a "latent value" that the artist tries to unveil. it is "the most purely artistic form. for it is by the teller's very choice of seemingly trivial details and his organization of them into a unified pattern that lyricizes the story and makes it seem natural and realistic even as it resonates with meaning. "a single quality that pervades the entire experience in spite of the variation of its constituent parts. rather than "experience" discursively understood. whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. Chekhov has thus had an effect on the works of such major twentieth-century short story writers as Katherine Anne Porter. lyricism in the short story is pure selection which hides itself behind the hard oudines of the event. and. The problem is to determine the source of this significance. and Raymond Carver. it may be the episode itself. his most immediate impact has been on the three writers of the early twenties who have received the most critical attention for fully developing the so-called "modern" short story—James Joyce. his perception that what seems trivial and everyday has. from his point of view. Franz Kafka. "an experience" is recognized as such precisely because it has a unity. It is this point of view that governs James Joyce's notion of the epiphany—"a sudden spiritual manifestation. striving to accommodate "realism" at the end of the nineteenth century. And because of the wide-spread influence of the stories of these three writers. On the one hand. "all experience" phenomenologically encountered." Although Chekhov's conception of the short story as a lyrically charged fragment in which characters are less fully rounded realistic figures than they are embodiments of mood has influenced all twentieth century practitioners of the form. significance and meaning. In fact." On the other hand. focused on an experience under the influence of a particular mood and therefore depended more on tone than on plot as a principle of unity. and Sherwood Anderson.

Katherine Mansfield was often accused of writing sketches instead of stories because her works did not manifest the plotted action of nineteenth-century short fiction. will embody the complexity of the inner state. by being deliberate and detailed. Anderson. "Misery" is a lament—not an emotional wailing." The external action of the story is extremely slight. Modern story writers after Chekhov made the objective correlative the central device in their development of the form. ." wants to talk of the death of his son "properly. by the judicious choice of relevant details. allowing the details of the story to communicate the latent significance of the boss's emotional state." He is caught by the primal desire to tell a story of the break-up of his everyday reality that will express the irony he senses and that. is to find an event that. description. Typical of Chekhov's minimalist stories is the often-anthologized "Misery. or characterization that served as a sort of objectification or formula for the emotion sought for. The answer for Chekhov." the story is about the nature of grief. Like Chekhov. The unnamed "boss" is visited by a retired friend whose casual mention of the boss's dead son makes him aware of his inability to grieve. if expressed "properly. For what the story communicates is the comic and pathetic sense of the incommunicable nature of grief itself." in which the rhythm of the old cab driver's everyday reality is suggested by his two different fares. Eliot later termed such a technique an "objective correlative"—a detailed event. Iona "thirsts for speech. Like "Misery.of Joyce. a rhythm Iona himself tries to break up with the news that his son is dead. will both express his grief and control it. The story ends with the boss idly dropping ink on a fly until it dies. and thus for the modern short story generally. also like Chekhov's story. In this sense. but rather a controlled objectification of grief and its incommunicable nature by the presentation of deliberate details. "The Fly" maintains a strictly objective point of view. whereupon he flings it away. very carefully. The best known Mansfield story similar in technique and theme to "Misery" is "The Fly. The story would indeed be only a sketch if Iona did not tell his story to his uncomprehending little mare at the end. but the problem he tried to solve is how to create an illusion of inner reality by focusing on external details only. that is. The story therefore illustrates one of the primary contributions Chekhov makes to the modern short story. whom she greatly admired. the expression of a complex inner state by presenting selected concrete details rather than by presenting either a parabolic form or by depicting the mind of the character. T." that is. S. and Mansfield is their minimal dependence on the traditional notion of plot and their focus instead on a single situation in which everyday reality is broken up by a crisis. Significant reality for Chekhov is inner radier man outer reality.

Chekhov's "Aniuta" also depends on a rhythm of reality being momentarily broken up by a significant event. just as the artist tries to capture her soul. We know nothing about Aniuta in any realistic detail.However. nor do we know the workings of her mind. Chekhov. only to fall back once again. he finds it increasingly difficult to maintain such feelings. Many of the stories of twentieth-century writers after Chekhov depend on this same use of objective detail and significant situation to reveal subtle . Such an inevitable loss of grief does not necessarily suggest that the boss's feelings for his son are negligible. The story opens with the medical student walking to and fro cramming for his anatomy examination. Moreover. The subtle way that Mansfield communicates the complexity of the boss's emotional situation by the seemingly irrelevant conversation between the boss and his old acquaintance and by his apparently idle toying with the fly is typical of the Chekhovian device of allowing objective detail to communicate complex states of feeling. rather it suggests a subtle aspect of grief—that it either flows naturally or else it must be self-consciously and artificially sought after." she is then used for the sake of "art" when the artist borrows her for his painting of Psyche. but neither is able to reveal her. The doctor tries to "sound" Aniuta's body. The fact that the story ends as it began with the student walking back and forth repeating his lessons seems to reaffirm the usual charge against Chekhov—that "nothing really happens" here. his own manipulated son. repeating his lessons over and over as he tries to learn mem by heart. The fact mat she has known five others before him who left her when they finished their studies indicates that the story depicts a repetitive event just as his sounding out his lines is repetitive. while Aniuta silently does her embroidery to earn money to buy him tea and tobacco. instead of focusing on the inarticulate nature of grief that goes deeper than words. by placing more dependence on the symbolism of the fly itself. "The Fly" seems to emphasize the transitory nature of grief—that regardless of how much the boss would like to hold on to his grief for his son. When the young medical student tries to learn the order of ribs by drawing them on Aniuta's naked flesh. but we know everything we need to know about her to understand her static situation. only Chekhov can "sound" her by his presentation of this significant episode. After she is used for the sake of "science. But what has happened is that by the means of two objectifications it is revealed that Aniuta is used both body and soul. we have an ironic image of the typical Chekhov device of manifesting the internal as external. or the trivia of life that distracts us from feeling. Mansfield differs from her mentor. regardless of whether one perceives the creature as a symbol of the death of the boss's grief.

" he feels. Gurov and Anna wonder how they can free themselves from their intolerable bondage. with so much of what we usually expect in narrative left out. This device of presenting a seemingly simple external situation in such a way as to suggest emotional complexities beneath it is typical of the best of Hemingway's short stories. Joyce. However. which is an objective correlative not only of Maria's malleable nature. is "The Lady with a Lapdog"—a paradigm for the story of the illicit affair. At the end of the story. "Hills Like White Elephants" is perhaps . in Joyce's "Clay. but of the decay of her possibilities. he knows he has another life running its course in secret. and the false only was open to others. for the real bondage is not the manifest one. in this case. and the sound of an organ-grinder's song to objectify Eveline's entrapment by the paralysis of the past. What makes the story so subtle and complex is that Chekhov presents the romance in such a limited and objective way that we realize that there is no way to determine whether it is love or romance. also depends more on the use of a central symbol than Chekhov does." However. a true life. the photo of a priest. the clay itself. Although Gurov feels that he has a life open and seen. for there is no way to distinguish between them. but rather by the seemingly simple details and events of the story itself. Similarly. For example." it is not through introspection that we know Maria. what seems so simple is indeed complicated. Although it seems to the couple that they would soon find the solution and a new and splendid life would begin. Joyce goes beyond Chekhov's use of simple detail to reveal a subtle emotional state by making all of his apparently "realistic" references to Maria ironic revelations of her manipulated and lonely situation. full of relative truth and falsehood like everyone else. that all we have is dialogue and description. a situation often so limited. Indeed. It is never clear in the story whether Gurov truly loves Anna Sergeevna or whether it is only the romantic fantasy that he wishes to maintain. "rested on secrecy. a story so pure and clean that it presages the lucid limitations of Ernest Hemingway. Joyce's "Eveline" depends solely on homey details such as dusty curtains. One of the most reticent of Chekhov's stories.moral and emotional situations. like Mansfield. "All personal life. there is no way to determine which is the real life and which is the false. Hemingway's debt to Chekhov lies in the radical limitation of authorial comment and the complete dependence on situation. at the same time it is clear to them that they had a long way to go and that the most complicated part of it was only just beginning. but only Chekhov and the reader are aware that there is no way to free themselves. but the latent bondage all human beings have to the dilemma of never knowing which is the true self and which is the false one.

the story contains approximately twenty-five minutes of silence. Hemingway's focus on radically realistic events and his minimal description of such events seem obviously influenced by Chekhov. Two-Hearted River" are Chekovian in their use of concrete details to reflect complex states of mind. In his famous iceberg analogy. and what the man wants—is communicated by simple details such as the man looking at their bags which have labels from all the hotels where they had spent nights and the girl looking at the dry hills and the fertile hills on the two sides of the valley. Moreover. will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. what the girl wants. if the writer is writing truly enough. his objective style. The bare situation and the seemingly trivial dialogue reveal a complex moral and emotional problem about the girl's proposed abortion which cannot be talked about directly." Hemingway's seemingly inconclusive stories such as "Hills Like White Elephants" and his highly detailed stories such as "Big. the exposition of the story—that is." a story made up mostly of silences.the best example of Hemingway's use of the Chekhov device of allowing the bare situation to express a complex emotional dilemma. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. what the couple's life is like. Consequently. The key to the silences of the story is the seemingly irrelevant detail announced at the beginning that the train will arrive in forty minutes. lies a complex emotional conflict between what the man thinks is "reasonable" and what the girl wants emotionally. Hemingway echoes the typical Chekhovian idea about limiting his stories: "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader. What critics have referred to as Hemingway's "objective magic" and his creation of stories that seem like "nightmares at noonday" derive from Chekhov's use of the objective correlative. Between Dream and Reality Such Chekhov stories as "Sleepy" and "The Bishop" make use of another significant modern short story technique: focusing on reality as an ambiguous mixture of the psychic and the external. Beneath the surface level of "Hills Like White Elephants. and his love of irony and understatement. If delivered dramatically. Chekhov presents . a silence more telling in many ways than the dialogue itself. the actual dialogue of the story would actually take only about fifteen minutes. "Sleepy" marks a sort of realistic half-way point between the symbolic use of the hypnogogic state by Poe and its being pushed to surrealistic extremes by Kafka.

simply. who in "great perplexity" is caught between external reality and psychic nightmare. 46-47).a basically realistic situation of the young Varka being literally caught in a hypnogogic state between desirable sleep and undesirable reality." a theme which also preoccupies the stories of Porter and Kafka.. Pale Rider. until as a result of a crisis confrontation between father and son." Although the irony of the ending is obvious. he still felt that he had missed what was most important. Kafka's "The Judgement" begins in a realistic way. With "The Bishop." Miranda is caught up in a dual world of dream and delirium made up both of the real world of war and death and the fantasy world of her illness and her love for the young man Adam. From the Bishop's sense of confusion. Porter takes Chekhov's use of the hallucinatory state and pushes it to ritualistic extremes to embody Miranda's death wish." (I." For here he links it with a theme that forms the center of one of his most frequently discussed works. as well as the stories of many other modern short story writers later on—the conflict between the presentational self and the problematical "real" self. . In this story. "not one person had spoken to him genuinely. What makes this movement from phenomenal reality into the hallucination of dream so different from the early nineteenth-century use of the motif is that the dream-like reality is presented as "realistically" and as concretely as external reality itself.. something of which he had dimly dreamed in the past." Chekhov blurs the lines between fantasy and reality for a more serious thematic purpose than in the relatively simple "Sleepy. the Bishop searches for his real self in reverie and hallucinatory memory. it is the hypnotic rhythm of the events and the hallucinatory images that blend dream and reality which makes the story a significant treatment of the short story device of dissolving the rhythm of everyday reality into the purely psychic. The Bishop feels that the whole time he has been a Bishop. as to a human being. Caught in the rhythm of his professional reality. the result is a lack of genuine communication and sympathy between the central character and others. The two modern short story writers who have pushed this technique to extremes are Katherine Anne Porter and Franz Kafka—Porter by using illness and the approach of death to create dream-like realms of psychic reality and Kafka by making use of crisis situations to transform everyday states into nightmarish and surrealistic experiences. . The two realms blend indistinguishably in her mind until the hallucination takes over completely and she strangles the baby so she can sleep as "soundly as the dead. "A Dreary Story. it its only a relatively small step to Kafka's country doctor. Chekhov moves closer to the kind of grotesque distortion of nightmare reality characteristic of Kafka. In "Pale Horse. Similarly. it turns into hallucinatory unreality which dramatizes suppressed emotional forces finally bursting forth.

he desires to be loved not for his fame or label. and in all my criticisms of science. my pupils. and ideas. Impressionism and Art as Reality In Chekhov's "A Dreary Story. the theatre. And if there is not that.Katherine Anne Porter. The drastic step Kafka takes is to make the transformation of the psychic into the physical the precipitating premise which the entire story follows. Both the crucial past event of Granny's life and her present situation are so blended together that it is difficult for the reader to separate them." Here Kafka pushes the hallucinatory device of Chekhov to its utmost extreme by forcing Gregor Samsa to face his real self in a metaphor that must be taken as reality." the story mingles past and present. like the Bishop. striving to know himself. in "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall. the rest of the story is quite prosaic and realistic. searches for his real self in the face of his impending death. Once one accepts this event. then there is nothing" (I. "Every feeling and every thought exists apart in me. Also like the Bishop. feelings." intensifies the hallucinatory effect of illness and impending death that we see in "The Bishop" by centering her story on Granny on her deathbed. but Porter exceeds Chekhov's use of the technique by presenting seemingly disconnected and irrelevant details of Granny's physical and psychic experience in such a fragmented way that the reader must tie the various details together in order to understand the overall pattern of Granny's failure and the cause of her final jilting. but as an ordinary man. or the god of a living man. similar to that epiphanic moment of Gabriel in Joyce's "The Dead." the professor. literature. the basic tension in the story that makes the reader not sure whether to laugh or to cry is between the horrifying yet absurd content and the matter-of-fact realistic style. even the most skillful analyst could not find what is called a general idea. The transformation of Gregor indicates the objectification of an inner state. The best known story of Franz Kafka which presents the theme of the presentational self within a framework of nightmarish situation and detail is of course "Metamorphosis. Like "The Bishop. comes to the realization that there is no common bond to connect all his thoughts. Although this lack of . hovering between hallucination and memory and trying to justify her past presentational self. and in all the pictures my imagination draws." Professor Stepanovitch. In the climactic moment of realization. The only suspension of disbelief required in the story is that the reader accept the premise that Gregor Samsa awakes one morning from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a giant dung beetle. 529).

and atmosphere that exists between perceiver and perceived.. "The House with . then art perhaps provides the only means to experience reality. The professor's lack of a general idea ironically is the basis for his one means of salvation. Chekhov's adoption of such a relativistic and impressionistic point of view is what makes him both a master of short story and an innovator of its modernity. feel. then he has little choice but to focus on the nature of art and fiction-making itself. But as Katia tells him. as well as reflective of Chekhov's own most negative characteristic as an artist. that if reality is a fictional construct and the writer wishes to focus on the nature of reality. and his philosophizing about it only reveals he does not understand it. subject and object. drives the author to render perceptually blurred bewilderment. there is also a positive aspect to such relativism which has been explored by such so-called postmodernist writers as Jorge Borges. but rather a manifestation of impressionism. "when all we have in the world is our own experience of it. he has no instinct or feeling for art. because the short story doesn't deal in cumulatives. an artistic construct. and the very nature of knowledge becomes problematic" and we must "confront the possibility that we cannot know anything for certain. on the one hand. Robert Coover. Literary impressionists discovered modernism. sense." More recently. Both sides of this modernist predisposition can be seen in such Chekhov stories as." Peter Stowell has made a strong case for understanding Chekhov's modernism as a result of his impressionistic point of view. John Barth. all received knowledge becomes suspect. As Ferguson points out. A discrete moment of truth is aimed at—not the moment of truth. As Nadine Gordimer has said about short story writers: "theirs is the art of the only thing one can be sure of—the present moment. . What is rendered is the mood. that is.a general idea is often cited as the professor's ultimate negative characteristic as a man.. the acceptance of the relativistic and impressionistic view via art which his young ward Katia objectifies. and others. The ambiguous and tenuous nature of experience perceived by the impressionist. Literary impressionists discovered a new way to depict a new way of seeing and knowing. rather than either the subject or the object. such a critical judgment reveals a failure to understand Chekhov's modern point of view and indeed the modern short story. Suzanne C. that the processes we follow in search for truth may yield only fictions. Ferguson has attempted to show that the so-called modern short story is not a discrete genre at all. says Stowell. If reality is a fiction." Although indeed Ferguson's suggestion may reflect the negative side of the modernist temperament.

" the artist in "The House with an Attic" is too bound by "general ideas. canticles are quite a different tiling from writing histories or sermons. Unlike Olga in "The Grasshopper" who only knows the external trappings of art. "Phenomena I don't understand." For Chekhov. What matters. nicknamed "Misuc. brief and complete. It is best embodied in his two most mystic stories which deal with the nature of art: "Easter Eve" and "The Student. "Easter Eve" and "The Student. he insists: "When science and art are real. I am above them" (I. he says the highest vocation of man is spiritual activity—"the perpetual search for truth and the meaning of life. the only way that the eternal can be achieved is aesthetically through a unification with the human. While both Lida and the artist are individually right in their emphases on serving the other and searching for the eternal. There must . moreover." too wedded to philosophizing and rhetoric to truly enter into the human realm of art and participate in its mysterious unity. Like the professor in "A Dreary Story. He says a man should feel superior even to what is beyond his understanding." Their failure is reflected by contrast with Genia whom they both misuse and manipulate for dieir own ends. they seek for God. in an in-between place on the ferry between darkness and chaos. art as a means to experience true reality is a complex religious. they aim not at temporary. is the beauty and sweetness of it. but at eternal and universal—they seek for truth and the meaning of life. In an in-between time between death and resurrection. "I face boldly. and sympathetic process. Genia. private ends." genuinely wishes the artist to initiate her into the domain of the "Eternal and the Beautiful." Becoming carried away with his own rhetoric. and am not overwhelmed by them. Everything must be harmonious." he tells the young Genia. Chekhov comes as close here as anywhere in his letters and notes to describing his own aesthetic. 545). neither actually genuinely embodies these ideals. For Chekhov. aesthetic." Both stories focus on the tension between disorder and harmony. 552)." But it is a realm that the artist knows only through rhetoric. As Ieronim says. who scorns him for not portraying the privations of the peasants. between separation resulting from everyday reality and unity achieved by means of story and song. he says. for the soul" (I. Lida. While she insists that the highest and holiest thing for a civilized being to do is to serve his neighbors. any more than the artist and the doctor embody them in "Aniuta. it is not enough to know well the life of the saint or the conventions that govern the writing of Attic" and on the other hand. otherwise he is not a man but a mouse afraid of everything. The central scene in the story is the artist's confrontation with Genia's older sister. Ieronim tells his story of Brother Nikolai and his extraordinary gift of writing hymns of praise.

The student says the fact that they are affected must mean that what happened to Peter has some relation to them. it is the creation of Nikolai in the narrator's imagination that justifies Ieronim's story. "The Student" begins with a sense of disorder and lack of harmony. graciousness and tenderness. thus Ieronim sees the face of his brother in the face of everyone. and in the silence there came the sound of muffled sobbing." Although it may not be the manner of the student's oral telling which affects the two women. to himself. After the student tells the story of the Last Supper and Peter's denial of Christ. "God knows. even in senseless jostling and shoving" to listen to the songs of Nikolai. "The garden was deathly still and very dark. which itself takes up about one third of this very short story. Indeed the revelation of character by means of story presentation of a crucial moment in which the reader must then imaginatively participate is the key to Chekhov's much discussed "objectivity" and yet "sympathetic" presentation. to the present. 464) In contrast to the silence of the dark river and the remembered beauty of Nikolai's songs is the chaos and restlessness of the celebration the narrator enters. it is indeed the story in every line softness. just as it is Nikolai's songs that sustain Ieronim. to the desolate village. it is once again song or story that serves to heal a fractured sense of reality. not one word should be harsh or rough or unsuitable. but "because her whole being was deeply affected by what happened in Peter's soul. it compels the reader/ listener to sympathetically identify with Peter in his complex moment of realization. while his mind is stirred and he is thrown into a tremor. and life suddenly seemed to him enchanting. The student thus feels joy at the sense of an unbroken chain running from the past to the present. It must be written so that the worshipper may rejoice at heart and weep. He feels that "truth and beauty" which had guided life there in the garden had continued without interruption: "always they were the most important influences working on human life and everything on the earth . . (I. and to all people. seeking a pretext to break out and vent itself in some movement. The widow wept not because of the way he told the tale. although the story does not reveal what is passing through Peter's soul. 468). where everyone is too caught up in the "childishly irresponsible joy. For the key to the eternal for Chekhov is the art work which serves to unify human experience. For. ." And with this final imaginative projection. he says he imagines Peter weeping. However. the power of the story affects the two listeners. perhaps if I had seen him I should have lost the picture my imagination paints for me now" (I. The narrator looks for the dead brother but does not regret not seeing him. . Indeed.

in fact emphasizes the radical difference between the routine of everyday reality and the incisive nature of story itself as the only means to know true reality." not only because the central conflict involves a Jew." emphasizes the religious-like nature of the aesthetic experience which the old priest has communicated to the young boy while he was alive and which he embodies to him now in his death. His unjustified hatred for the Jewish flautist Rothschild who plays even the merriest tunes sadly. The Contemporary Short Story The contemporary short story writer most influenced by the Chekhovian objective/ironic style is Bernard Malamud. but because of its pathetic/comic ironic tone. both depend on unity of feeling to create a sense of "story-ness". both Anderson and Joyce focus on the central themes of isolation and the need for human sympathy and the moral failure of inaction which dominate the modernist movement in the early twentieth century." As in "Easter Eve. For example. and the Chekhov story that seems most similar to Malamud's stories is "Rothschild's Fiddle. The result is an objective-ironic style which has characterized the modern short story up to the present day. It is a style that. "The Sisters. Contemporary short story writers push this Chekhovian realization to even more aesthetic extremes. Like Chekhov. through the aesthetic experience and sense of unity that story and song create. and his feeling of financial loss and ruin align Iakov with all those figures that Malamud's . both abjure highly plotted stories in favor of seemingly static episodes and "slices" of reality. and both establish a sense of the seemingly casual out of what is deliberately patterned. marvelous and full of deep meaning. "Death in the Woods" is particularly like "The Student" in its emphasis on how only story itself can reveal the mysterious nature of human communion. even as it seems realistic on its surface. creating significance out of the trivial by judicious selection of detail and meaningful ordering of the parts. Iakov Ivanov's business as a coffinmaker is bad in his village because people die so seldom.ravishing. Both Sherwood Anderson and James Joyce similarly focus on the significance of the aesthetic experience as being the means both for a religious participation with the "eternal" and a sympathetic participation with the other. Joyce's "The Sisters" focuses on story and art as a religious/aesthetic experience which dominates the collection The Dubliners. and Anderson's "Death in The Woods" centers around "story" as the only means to know the other." like both "Easter Eve" and "The Student." here we see the only means by which Chekhov feels that the eternal can be achieved.

Thus he thinks life is a loss while death is a gain. and thus Iakov leaves Rothschild his fiddle. When he becomes ill and knows that he is dying. Iakov's epiphanic realization comes after his wife's death when he goes to the riverbank and remembers the child his wife had mentioned. Fanny. He cannot remember and tells her she is dreaming. for he knows that he has never spoken a kind word to her and has shouted at her for his losses. we may realize immense profits. at the end.Manischevitz identifies in "The Jewbird" when he says to his wife. for since we lie in the grave so long. those who are alienated and suffering. that is. He laments once again his losses and thinks that if people did not act from envy and anger. The new song so delights the town that the merchants and government officials vie with each other to get Rothschild to play for them. as he has with his wife and Rothschild. he wonders why he has never come here before and thinks of ways he could have made money at the riverbank. "A wonderful thing. there are Jews everywhere. But the moral/aesthetic configuration of his stories is such that the reader is not permitted the luxury of an easy moral judgment. As he is dying. Even as Iakov becomes lost in the pleasure of the pastoral scene. His characters are always caught in what might be called the demand for sympathy and responsibility. Malamud's stories move inevitably toward a conclusion in which complex moral dilemmas are not so much resolved as they are frozen in a symbolic final epiphany or ironic gesture." Chekhov's attempt to capture the sense of Yiddish folktale in "Rothschild's Fiddle" makes the story closer to a parable than most of his other best known stories. one also realizes that his short stories reflect the tight symbolic structure and ironic and distanced point of view that we have come to associate with the short story since Chekhov. But Chekhov's irony is more complex here than the simple sentimentality that such a realization might have elicited. the result is so sad that everyone who hears it weeps. Malamud's short stories are often closer to the oral tradition of parable than they are to the realistic fiction of social reality. The fact that Jews. As Rothschild later tries to play the tune Iakov played. That Iakov has always been concerned with profit and loss rather than his family is also revealed when his wife asks him if he remembers when they had a baby and it died." is of course a . "Rothschild's Fiddle" is an ironic parable-like story about the common Chekhov theme of loss and the lack of human communion which Malamud typically makes his own. Thus. only Rothschild is there to pity him. which seems so obvious in "Rothschild's Fiddle. However. they could get great "profit" from one another. although one can discern traces of the Yiddish tale in Malamud. Iakov thinks that one good thing about it is that he will not have to eat and pay taxes. a profit is realized from Iakov's death. Believe me. Iakov feels distressed when his wife dies. are everywhere.

devoted primarily toward making purchases in a perfecdy banal. and that the event itself is a parody of events not told. A man puts all his furniture out in his front yard and runs an extension cord out so that things work just as they did when they were inside." The problem of the story is that the event cannot be talked out. She told everyone. after trying to evict the unwanted and self-centered Kessler. The charge lodged against Carver is the same one once lodged against Chekhov. garage-sale way. "Why Don't You Dance. There was more to it.common theme in such Malamud stories as "The Mourners" in which the landlord Gruber. the young wife tells someone about the event." these stories present one sufferer who can understand the suffering of another. The bitter-sweet conclusions of most of Malamud's tales are typical of his Chekhovian refusal to give in to either sentimentality or condescension. who has her own history of woes to recite. perhaps the contemporary short story writer who is closest to Chekhov is Raymond Carver. event is mysterious. Characters often have no names or only first names and are so briefly described that they seem to have no physical presence at all. look at the furniture. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. the two old friends can only embrace and part forever as the stench of the corpse-like burned bread lingers in their nostrils. Lieb the baker. Like "Rothschild's Fiddle. certainly they have no distinct identity but rather seem to be shadowy presences trapped in their own inarticulateness. that the hopeful young couple play out a mock scenario of that marriage which presages their own. like the . that the owner has made a desperate metaphor of his marriage. A young couple stop by. The conversation is functional. that his fiction is dehumanized and therefore cold and unfeeling. we know that a marriage is over. It is the central dilemma in "The Loan" in which Kobotsky arrives to ask for a loan from his old friend. will not allow the loan. and she was trying to get it talked out. At the conclusion. "She kept talking. that the secret life of the house has been externalized on the front lawn. try out the bed. but kept hidden. have a drink. Although there is no exposition in the story. language is used so sparingly and the plots are so minimal that the stories seem pallidly drained patterns with no flesh and life in them. After a time. and the girl dances with the owner. it is completely objectified in the spare description of the event itself. The stories are so short and lean that they seem to have plot only as we reconstruct them in our memory. Whatever theme they may have is embodied in the bare outlines of the event and in the spare dialogue of characters who are so overcome by event and so lacking in language that the theme is unsayable. finally pulls a sheet over himself and kneels to the floor to become a mourner with the old man. character is negligible. When Lieb's wife Bessie. In Carver's most recent collection of stories. she quit trying. However." plot is minimal. In a typical Carver story.

seven-eighths of the iceberg that Hemingway said could be left beneath the surface of prose if the writer knew his subject well enough. it is easy to see . and the latter characterized by such writers as Hemingway in the twenties and thirties and Raymond Carver in the seventies and eighties whose styles are thin to the point of disappearing. as in Hawthorne. "the will to style. to derealize: style involves dehumanization. However. The result has been two completely different textures in short fiction—the former characterized by such writers as Eudora Welty in the forties and fifties and Bernard Malamud in the sixties and seventies whose styles are thick with metaphor and myth. which could be said to have been started by Chekhov. there are two basic means by which the short story has pursued its movement away from the linearity of prose toward the spatiality of poetry— either by using the metaphoric and plurasignative language of the poem or by radically limiting its selection of the presented event. and it was later combined with the metaphoric mode by such writers as Faulkner. became reaffirmed as the primary mode of the "literary" or "artistic" short story (as opposed to the still-popular tale form) in the twenties by Mansfield. The charge often made against the Chekhovian story—that it is dehumanized and therefore cold and unfeeling—has been made about the short story as a form since Hawthorne was criticized for his "bloodless" parables. However. critics of the short story forget that the royal road to art. The Will To Style From its beginnings as a separately recognized literary form. or whether it has moved toward the presentation of the single event. Flannery O'Connor." Given this definition of art. Regardless of whether short fiction has clung to the legendary tale form of its early ancestry. the form has always been a "much in little" proposition which conceals more than it reveals and leaves much unsaid. Katherine Anne Porter. and Joyce. the novel. In their nostalgia for the bourgeois security of nineteenth-century realism." And to stylize "means to deform reality. as Ortega delineates is. Anderson. such a charge ignores the nature of art that has characterized Western culture since the early nineteenth century and which Ortega y Gasset so clearly delineated in The Dehumanization of Art. as in Chekhov. the short story has always been more closely associated with lyric poetry than with its overgrown narrative neighbor. This second style. and others to create a modern short story which still maintains some of the characteristics of the old romance form even as it seems to be a radically realistic depiction of a single crucial episode.

form in the work of John Barth. but rather an object of study itself. it is clear that the contemporary short story. Although Anton Chekhov could not have anticipated the far-reaching implications of his experimentation with the short story as a seemingly realistic. but pure and transparent. The underlying assumption is that the forms of art are explainable by the laws of art. Rather than presenting itself "as if" it were real—a mimetic mirroring of external reality—postmodernist fiction makes its own artistic conventions and devices the subject of the story as well as its theme. and Raymond Carver." The lyricism of the Chekhovian short story lies in this will to style in which reality is derealized and ideas live solely as ideas. Robert Coover. the language act. and others.that the short story as a form has always embodied "the will to style. yet highly stylized." The short story writer realizes that the artist must not confuse reality with idea. a la Chekhov. gemlike short story. Donald Barthelme. For it is with Chekhov that the short story was liberated from its adherence to the parabolic exemplum and fiction generally was liberated from the tedium of the realistic novel. With Chekhov. which. a reaction against nineteenth-century bourgeois realism. Thus Chekhov's stories are more "poetic. lean and angular. If the term "modernism" suggests. "take the ideas for what they are—mere subjective patterns—and make them live as such. Fictional self-consciousness in the short story does not allow the reader to maintain the comfortable cover-up assumption that what is depicted is real. The short story as a genre has always been more apt to lay bare its fictionality than the novel. which has traditionally tried to cover it up. instead the reader is made uncomfortably aware that the only reality is the process of depiction itself—the fiction-making process. the short story took . then postmodernism pushes this movement even further so that contemporary fiction is less and less about objective reality and more and more about its own creative processes. Joyce. for all of its much complained-of "unread-ability. more "artistic" than we usually expect fiction to be. One final implication of Chekhov's focus on the "will to style" is the inevitable self-consciousness of fiction as fiction. manifested itself as a frustration of conventional expectations about the cause-and-effect nature of plot and the "as-if-real" nature of character. Anderson. that he must inevitably turn his back on alleged reality and. literary language is not a proxy for something else. they help define the difference between the loose and baggy monstrous novel and the taut. as most critics seem to agree." owes a significant debt to the much-criticized "storyless" stories of Chekhov. The primary effect of this mode of thought on contemporary fiction is that the story has a tendency to loosen its illusion of reality to explore the reality of its illusion. as Ortega insists." that is.

Conrad Aiken's assessment of him in 1921 has yet to be challenged: "Possibly the greatest writer of the short story who has ever lived. There can be no understanding of the short story as a genre without an understanding of Chekhov's contribution to the form." .on a new respectability and began to be seen as the most appropriate narrative form to reflect the modern temperament.

overwhelmed by the past and future. . Masha and Irina. This theme (around which. © 1987 by the University of Minnesota. The play begins a year after their father's death. is merely an interim. in a large garrison town in East Russia. Thus Olga. to do without human interaction is to be lonely. who had taken command of a brigade. memories of life in Moscow overflow into From Theory of the Modern Drama. is exclusively a presentation of lonely individuals intoxicated by memories and dreaming of the future. To renounce the present is to live with memories and Utopian dreams. a period of suspended animation during which the only goal is to return to the lost homeland. Andrei Sergeovitch. the Prozorov sisters. perhaps the most fully realized of Chekhov's plays. The Three Sisters.PETER SZONDI The Drama in Crisis: Chekhov In Chekhov's plays the characters live under the sign of renunciation— renunciation of the present and of communication before all else. moreover. in which passionate longing and irony mix to prevent any extreme. Eleven years earlier they had left their home in Moscow to go there with their father. also determines the form of Chekhov's plays and his position in the development of modern theater. renunciation of the happiness arising from real interaction. all romantic literature circles) becomes concrete in The Three Sisters in terms of the bourgeois world at the turn of the century. This resignation. Their present. live with their brother. Their stay in the provinces has lost all meaning.

. . we live for it. we won't be happy. Masha married unhappily when she was seventeen. suffer for it. wait for it.the boredom of their daily existence and grow into a single despairing cry: "To Moscow!" The wait for this return to the past. We're not meant to be happy . we'll have no part in that life. They all ponder their own lives. absorbs the three sisters completely. . separate them from their fellow beings. and thus we are bringing it about. Olga believes that "in the four years [she has] been teaching at the school. Alexander Ignatyavitch Vershinin says: And then. Two or three hundred years or a thousand years from now—its immaterial how long—a new happy life will come about. we must become aware of its impending arrival. lose themselves in memories. If I can't be happy." And Irina. . We must just work and work and work and someday our descendants will he happy. that moment in the future which is the intended goal of the Prozorov sisters has expanded into a Utopian vision.. and prepare the way for it. but nevertheless even today. though. Man needs such a life and while we don't have it yet. in it lies our happiness. Everyone in the Prozorov family and all their acquaintances have their own problems—problems that preoccupy them even in the company of others and. [she has] felt [her] strength and youth draining away drop by drop. the weight of the past and the dissatisfaction with the present isolate the characters. . imagine it. and torment themselves by analyzing their boredom. . and in fact it's already changing right before our eyes. And later. Even more than this Utopian orientation. They are surrounded by garrison officers who are consumed by the same fatigue and longing. Andrei is crushed by the discrepancy between a longed-for professorship in Moscow and his actual position as secretary to the rural district council.. . well yes. which is also supposed to be a wonderful future. therefore. For one of these officers. if you like. Of course. at least my grandchildren's grandchildren. And that alone is the purpose of our existence and. work for it. little by little. It seems to me that everything on earth is bound to change. life on earth will be beautiful and wonderful beyond anything we can imagine. in another two or three hundred years.

thought to lack tension) clearly reveals their place in the formal whole. dramatic form itself. The Three Sisters does have the rudiments of traditional action. this perennial analysis of one's own fate. I've grown old and thin and unattractive without having ever found anything the slightest bit satisfactory or rewarding and time goes by and I feel I'm going farther and farther away from a real. the exposition. They do not draw any ultimate conclusions from their loneliness and longing. slipping down into some sort of an abyss. The question is. The third takes place at night while a great fire rages in the neighborhood. although they do not actually express anything. admits: I'm going on twenty-four already. Despite their psychic absence from social life. I've worked for years now and my brain's all dried up. incidental manner that allows the real subject negative expression as a deviation from traditional dramatic form. leaving the Prozorovs to succumb completely to the boredom of provincial life This disconnected juxtaposition of active moments and their arrangement into four acts (which was. between now and then. The first act. It is the pale background on which monologic responses framed as conversation appear as touches of color in which the meaning of the whole is concentrated. beautiful life. to set the thematic in motion sufficiendy to allow space for dialogue. takes place on Irina's name day. I've lost all hope and I don't even understand how it is that I'm still alive and haven't killed myself yet. These resigned self-analyses—which allow almost all the characters to make individual . thus. of the interpersonal. They are included. The second presents transitional events: Andrei's marriage. the birth of his son. from the first. was once crystallized? The double renunciation that marks Chekhov's characters seems inevitably to necessitate the abandonment of action and dialogue—the two most important formal categories of the Drama and. But even this dialogue carries no weight. Instead. fit with a dramatic form in which the Renaissance creed of the here and now. how does this thematic renunciation of the present in favor of memory and longing. they hover midway between the world and the self.who has plunged into her work to overcome her dissatisfaction and sadness. But one senses only a tendency in this direction. then. They are maintained in a deempha-sized. the heroes of Chekhov's plays live on. The fourth presents the duel in which Irina's fiancé is killed—on the very day the regiment moves out of town. so the formal presentation does not have to reject completely those categories necessary for it to be dramatic.

Chekhov manages this by making Ferapont. hard of hearing. in fact. Perhaps. Hamlet hides his feelings from the people at court for practical reasons. silence speaks too. The situation is quite different in Chekhov's play. Thus. empty dialogue turns into substance-filled monologue. The lines are spoken aloud in front of others. It is. In the lyric. and they isolate the speaker. Andrei: How are you old friend? What can I do for you? Ferapont: The council chairman sends you a book and some . the inclusion at individual at loneliness in a growing collective loneliness—seems to be a possibility inherent in the Russian: the person and the language. in addition to conveying the concrete meaning of the words. Its origins probably lie in Russian expansiveness and in the immanent lyric quality of the language itself. because they would all too readily understand that he wishes to take vengeance for his father—that he must the vengeance. the Drama is reduced to silence. He can speak only when he knows he will not be understood. more formal. It also explains why the dialogue creates so few problems in these plays and why the internal contradiction between monologic thematic and dialogic declaration does not lead to the destruction of the dramatic form. all is spoken with a naturalness that is inherent in the nature of the lyric. instead. As G[eorg] Lukacs has demonstrated. almost without notice. the watchman at the district council offices.statements—give life to the work. His loneliness forces him into silence: therefore. In lyric poetry. What the Occidental most probably experiences only while intoxicated—participation in the loneliness of the other. the three sisters' brother. Only Andrei. This is the reason the monologues in Chekhov's plays fit comfortably into the dialogue. on the other hand. When there is nothing more to say or when something cannot be expressed. he avoids company. language is less in need of justification than in the Drama. also announces the fact that something is being spoken. This constant movement from conversation into the lyrics of loneliness is what gives Chekhov's language its charm. They are not monologues in the traditional sense of the word. Of course words are no longer "exchanged" in the course of a conversation. not while alone. These are not isolated monologues built into a work structured around the dialogue. as it were. Loneliness is not the same thing as torpor here. In the Drama. is incapable of even this mode of expression. Their source is not in the situation but in the subject. Rather it is through them that the work as a whole departs from the dramatic and becomes lyric. speech. the dramatic monologue formulates nothing that cannot be communicated otherwise. It was written for their sake.

Here . since my wife doesn't understand me and I'm afraid that my sisters would laugh in my face. of which Protopopov is chairman. {Thinking Andrei has said something. And there was one of 'em ate forty. Ferapont: What? (Pause) Well... and the most I can hope for is to become a member one day. but they wouldn't let me in to see you.. Andrei: Its just as well.) What? Andrei: I didn't say a thing. Ferapont: That's right. Andrei: You can go into a big Moscow restaurant where you don't know anyone and no one knows you. . when every night I dream that I'm a professor at Moscow University and a famous scholar of whom all Russia is proud! Ferapont: I wouldn't know . that's fine. me a member of the local council. But why did you come over so late? It's after eight already. I don't like bars but let me tell you. I can't say for sure. . how life changes: what tricks it plays on us! Today I had nothing to do so I picked up this book here—it's an old collection of university lectures—and I felt like laughing. (Hands him a book and a packet?) Andrei: Thanks. old fellow.) Ah. {Pauses.) Tomorrow's Friday and I'm off. and yet you feel like a stranger among them. and yet you feel perfectly at home there. . I don't hear so good...papers. mind you. secretary of the Rural Council. here. . {Looks over the book. Either forty or fifty. and it seems he died. It was still light when I got here. but I'll come over anyway and do some work. because I hardly would've spoken to you like this if you could hear. that same contractor was saying that they're stretching a big rope right across the whole of Moscow—but maybe he was lying at that! Although this passage seems to be dialogue—thanks to the support . here I am. Imagine. I heard some contractor over at the Council telling them that he'd seen some merchants in Moscow eating pancakes. Ferapont: And me. right now I'd give anything to be sitting at Testov's or in the Great Moscow Inn. Good lord.— And a lonely stranger at that. It's after eight. Ferapont: What say? Andrei {louder): I said. you came over very late. Now. you know everyone and everyone knows you. the council. . I get bored at home. I need someone to talk to. old man.

given by the motif of not hearing—it is really a despairing monologue by Andrei. Ferapont provides counterpoint with his own equally monologic speech. Whereas elsewhere there is the possibility of real understanding because of a common subject, here its impossibility is expressed. The impression of divergence is greatest when the speeches simulate convergence. Andrei's monologue does not arise out of the dialogue. It comes from the negation of dialogue. The expressivity of this cross-purpose speaking is rooted in a painful, parodistic contrast with real dialogue, which it removes into the Utopian. But dramatic form itself is called into question at this point. Because the collapse of communication is motivated in The Three Sisters (Ferapont's inability to hear), a return to dialogue is still possible. Ferapont is only an occasional figure on stage. But everything thematic, the content of which is larger and weightier than the motif that serves to represent it, struggles toward precipitation as form. And the formal withdrawal of dialogue leads, of necessity, to the epic. Ferapont's inability to hear points the way to the future.

DAVID COLE Chekhov, The Sea Gull Near the opening of act 4 of The Sea Gull there occurs the following exchange: ([PAULINE] goes to the desk. Leaning on her elbows she gazes at the manuscript. A pause) . . . PAULINE: (Gazing at the manuscript) Nobody ever thought or dreamed that some day, Kostya, you'd turn out to be a real author. But now, thank God, the magazines send you money for your stories. (Passing her hand over his hair) And you've grown handsome . . . dear, good, Kostya, be kind to my little Masha. MASHA: (Making the bed) Let him alone, Mama. PAULINE: She's a sweet little thing. (A pause) A woman, Kostya, doesn't ask much . . . only kind looks. As I well know. (TREPLEFF rises from the desk and without speaking goes out.) MASHA: You shouldn't have bothered him. PAULINE: I feel sorry for you, Masha. MASHA: Why should you? PAULINE: My heart aches and aches for you. I see it all. MASHA: It's all foolishness! Hopeless love . . . that's only in novels. (From Acting As Reading: The Place of the Reading Process in the Actor's Work. © 1992 by the University of Michigan Press.)

Chekhov abounds in episodes of, and references to, reading; The Sea Gull alone provides many examples. Nina is "always reading" Trigorin's stories (act 1, p. 17). Arkadina and Dorn read Maupassant to each other (act 2, p. 23). Trigorin enters reading a book (act 2, pp. 30-31), enjoys reading proofs (act 2, p. 34), hates reading bad reviews (act 2, p. 31). Nina gives Trigorin a medal engraved with a page and line reference to a passage in his own writings (act 2, p. 38); Trigorin reads the inscription (act 2, p. 39), then looks up the passage (act 2, p. 45). Trigorin brings Trepleff a magazine containing stories by each of them, though the uncut pages reveal he has only read his own (act 4, pp. 59-60). Trepleff rereads and revises his own work-in-progress (act 4, p. 63). And so on. With such a wealth of reading scenes to choose from it may seem perverse to focus on a scene of apparent nonreading: Pauline merely "gazes" at Trepleff's manuscript while speaking of something else. I am going to argue, however, that such gazing on a text while speaking of something else is an image of the particular kind of reading required of an actor working on a Chekhov script—is, in fact, Chekhov's characteristic image of acting as reading. How it becomes so will perhaps be clearer if, contrary to our usual practice, we begin not with the scene itself but, instead, with an overview of reading in Chekhov's four major plays. Though the act of reading is everywhere present in Chekhov, it is everywhere problematic, its very pervasiveness the symptom of a pervasive cultural problem. Sometimes the problem is clearly with the texts themselves. Trepleff's symbolist play (Sea Gull, act 1) or Kulygin's "history of our high school covering fifty years, written by me" (Three Sisters, act 1, p. 155), are "unreadable" exercises in self-absorption which cannot speak to a reader. Often enough, though, the texts a Chekhovian character encounters have plenty to say to him. In The Three Sisters, especially, some text or other is constantly giving the Prozoroff family the truth of their situation. The lines of Pushkin which Masha cannot get out of her head—"By me curved seashore a green oak, a golden chain upon that oak" (act 1, pp. 144, 161)—is an image of happiness there for the taking. The French minister's prison diary, which Vershinin cites as an illustration that "happiness we have not. . . , we only long for it" (act 2, pp. 175-76), exposes the essential emptiness of the sisters' Moscow fantasy. Even the bit of newspaper filler read out by Tchebutykin— "Balzac was married in Berdichev" (act 2, p. 173)—contains a valuable perspective. If a great writer like Balzac could find happiness in a backwater like Berdichev, how much the more should you, here. . . ? In all these instances—Pushkin, the minister's diary, the newspaper— the text itself is profitable; it is the reader who fails to profit. This suggests

that the problem lies not in texts but, rather, in the transaction readers have, or fail to have, with them. "I read a great deal," says Vershinin, "but don't know how to choose books, and read, perhaps, not at all what I should" (act 2, p. 172). In particular, Chekhovian characters seem to have difficulty establishing a relation between reading and subsequent action. Either the character is unable to take any action at all in response to the text he reads: LOPAHIN: {turning the pages of a book) Here I was reading a book and didn't get a thing out of it. Reading and went to sleep. {Cherry Orchard, act 1, p. 228) Or else the character is unable to take the particular action the text prescribes: ELENA: It is only in sociological novels they teach and cure sick peasants, and how can I suddenly for no reason go to curing and teaching them? (Uncle Vanya, act 3, p. 105) (Compare, in our scene, Masha's "Hopeless love . . . that's only in novels.") Or else the character reads and takes action, but some action wholly unrelated to what he reads: (Enter MARIA VASILIEVNA with a book; she sits down and reads; she is served tea and drinks it without looking up) (Uncle Vanya, act 1, p. 79) Particularly frequent in Chekhov are moments when, as in our Sea Gull excerpt, the reader looks at a text and brings forth something else. Like the student in Kulygin's anecdote who misreads his teacher's marginal comment "Nonsense!" as "consensus"(Three Sisters, act 4, p. 207), Chekhovian readers are forever coming out with something other than the words on the page before them. Masha Prozoroff peers into a book—and whistles {Three Sisters, act 1, p. 140). Tchebutykin takes a newspaper out of his pocket—and begins to sing (Three Sisters, act 4, p. 222). Dorn leafs through a magazine—and announces Trepleff's suicide {Sea Gull, act 4, pp. 169-70). Conversely, Chekhov's characters are forever coming out with texts from which, at the moment, they do not read: for example, Kulygin's classical catchphrases, Masha's "chain on the oak" refrain, and the lines from Trigorin and Turgenev which keep flashing across Nina's mind in the midst of her final conversation with Trepleff (Sea Gull, act 4, pp. 65-68). The one thing that does not often

144) or to the future: ANYA: We'll read in the autumn evenings. act 2. wonderful world will open up before us— (daydreaming). it also has—as our Greek and medieval examples have shown us an era's view of reading tends to have—implications for acting. read lots of books. looks into the grave and with the other . namely. p. Arkadina and Nina. who "with one eye . p. 165). True reading belongs to the past : TCHEBUTYKIN: Since I left the University. {Three Sisters. and both are represented as having difficulty establishing a link between the reading . (Cherry Orchard. I haven't lifted a finger." broods Epihodoff in The Cherry Orchard. . . . are actors. . Undoubtedly. act 4. reads of a past he will never see again. what to do next. . whether to live or to shoot myself" (act 2. There speaks the true voice. thumbing through his old university lectures {Three Sisters. . . But if such a crisis in reading implies a general cultural dilemma. This unfeasibility of reading "at present" is thematized in Chekhov as a banishment of authentic reading from the present of the play's action. namely. That such a crisis in reading as Chekhov represents might have consequences for the actor-reader is not a mere matter of speculation. Uncle Vanya's mother. "but the trouble is I cannot discover my own inclinations. Andrei Prozoroff. p. p. how to act. Or radier: In Chekhov's depictions of reading we see what acting must become in a cultural situation where texts can no longer be trusted to tell readers what scripts have always told actors. 77). such a breakdown in the reading process is an image and symptom of a larger cultural situation: a historical moment when books are no longer regarded as capable of telling people what to do now. and a new. Two of the principal characters in The Sea Gull. 289) Even when reading takes place onstage now it tends to look ahead or back from the present moment. 250). I've not read a single book even. p. but just read the newspapers.happen in a Chekhov reading scene is the one thing that we are accustomed to think happens as a matter of course between an actor and a script. rummages through her learned books for the dawn of a new life" (act 1. {taking another newspaper out of his pocket). reads of a future she will never see. act 1. and true dilemma of Chekhovian reading. that a reader reads of an action and performs it. "I read all kinds of remarkable books.

look me in the eyes. . . p. ARKADINA: (to herself) Now he's mine. I now take the very action prescribed by the text. studying my part.they do and the actions they perform. all by myself. we've no set program. . faced with the prospect of Trigorin's desertion. . Near the beginning of act 2 she reads aloud and comments disapprovingly on a passage from Maupassant: ARKADINA: "And so when a woman has picked out the author she wants to entrap. I deny that I enact the text. (act 2. but certainly here with us there's nothing of the kind. (act 3. my lovely darling ." Arkadina. . p. only I can appreciate you. then. among the French that may be. Her position seems to be: "Yes. only I can tell you the truth. yes. weak. amenities and favors. . . she besieges him with compliments. . Do I look like a liar? There you see. How." Well. . in other words. I've never had a will of my own. only never let me be one step away from you. carry me away. how much better! (act 2. sitting in my hotel room. 26) Yet her refusal to acknowledge the hidden "scenario" behind her "performance" with Trigorin amounts to a dismissal of the ties between acting and reading. delightful listening to you. . it's impossible to read you without rapture! Do you think this is only incense? I'm flattering you? Come. I have read the text and. Flabby. p. my friends. she avails herself of this very "set program": ARKADINA: Oh. but. 23) Yet in act 3. You are coming? Yes? You won't leave me? TRIGORIN: I have no will of my own. are we to understand her earlier disavowal of Maupassant? Arkadina claims to relish the reading aspect of the actor's work: It's good to be here with you. . for all that. . But. With Arkadina this takes the form of outright denial that she so much as works from the "script" upon which her actions are plainly based. always submitting! Is it possible that might please women? Take me. installs at the heart of acting that . 47) Her final aside indicates that Arkadina is perfectly conscious of pursuing the Maupassant scenario.

Pauline in our scene—to which. While Nina's decision to step free of the two male "playwrights" who between them would confine her forever to the roles of victim or goddess no doubt bodes well for her as a woman and an artist. I now return—is not an actress. p. I'm an actress" (act 4. But there is the further suggestion that. authenticity as an actor will ultimately consist in following neither script. destroys it. is to choose to have nothing further to do with the text one has been reading.very discontinuity between reading and subsequent action which is. Do you remember. Far from seeking. she has been appearing in Trigorin's drama of the abandoned girl/gull literally from the moment of its conception: NINA: I'm a sea gull. like Arkadina. she is openly trying to enact two scripts at once. it ensues as a cancellation of that impulse. To choose to act. 68)—are the last words we hear Nina speak. p. . Unlike Arkadina and Nina. The situation of performing two scripts at once is already a perplexed image of the relation between acting and reading. 13. In the meadows the cranes wake and cry no longer" (act 1. and out of nothing else to do. act 4. sees it. as the truth of. On the one hand. after this long detour. 67. And her impulse to reassume the earth spirit role in Trepleff's monodrama is followed by her departure for her next acting job. in turning from scripts. acting. that's not it. we have seen. in each case. She is also. 36]. That's not it. in this apparent nonreading by an . she has never quite relinquished her act 1 role as Trepleff's symbolist earth spirit. the familiar Chekhovian disjunction between reading and subsequent action once again appears at the heart of. p. p. you shot a sea gull? A man comes by chance. Nonetheless. . the implications of such a move for the relation between reading and acting are not so hopeful. As with Arkadina. p. stricdy speaking. italics added) (The italicized words are those in which Trigorin first presented to Nina the idea for his not yet written story [act 2. its opening words—"Vainly now the pallid moon doth light her lamp. (act 4. No. go off to her next acting job rather than perform Trepleff's Erdgeist. I would argue that. it is implied.) On the other hand. For. the essential dilemma of Chekhovian reading. not a reader: All she does is "gaze" at the text in her hand while speaking of other things. . She will be an actress rather than play Trigorin's sea gull. and. Her impulse to fall in with the Trigorin scenario ("I'm a sea gull") is followed by her denial: "No. to deny all dependency on scripts. Nina's difficulties as an actor-reader at first appear quite different. italics added). while acting ensues upon the impulse to follow a script. that's not it. again. for Nina. 67.

In fact. which it appears to be? First of all. in other words. "what it says" has been reduced to what the fact of its existence "says" to her. good Kostya." In other words. thank God.apparent nonactor. rather. in view of all the difficulties associated with reading." And the mere gaze she bestows on Trepleff's manuscript is an image of the kind of attention which an actor reading for subtexts bestows on . rather than the image of reading avoided. she claims she cannot find time to read him (act 4. Perhaps now that the world is paying you more attention. In the neglect you formerly showed my daughter. 62). Nina declines Masha's request to read a selection from Trepleff's script (act 2. this manuscript of yours will be treated far better than your works used to be. . Trepleff asserts he has not read the works of Trigorin (act 1. and Trigorin does not bother to read the writings of Trepleff (act 4. they reflect what she understands the significance of that text to be: PAULINE: {gazing at the manuscript) Nobody ever thought or dreamed that some day. and that situation is acting. are not unrelated to that text. of reading narrowed and intensified to the finding of a stake. Is there any reason why Pauline's behavior with the manuscript here should not be added to this list? On what conceivable view of reading is gazing at a text in one's hand and speaking words other than those it contains a possible image of reading. Pauline. dear. you in turn will feel able to pay more attention to her. Pauline is a type of the actor reading with a stake—or. Not surprisingly. p. notice that the words Pauline speaks. is reading for what Stanislavski was later to call the "subtext. I believe. perhaps. p. . even after he becomes a published author. refusals to read are quite common in The Sea Gull. 'passing on' society's neglect of you. be kind to my little Masha. Chekhov images an acting-reading relation that gets beyond the disjunction between reading and subsequent action so characteristic of both Chekhov's readers and his actor-readers. 11)." But there is one situation where the wholly subjective reading is the appropriate one. 6). . Arkadina has not read her son's play (act 1. p. you'd turn out to be a real author. what Pauline "reads" in Trepleff's manuscript is a prospect of better treatment for her daughter. When someone reads this way in real life we are likely to dismiss his reading as "wholly subjective. But now. p. 62). Kostya. reading refused. (act 2. 24). p. and. the magazines send you money for your stories. 52) This we may paraphrase as follows: "As the latest production of a recognized author. p. while not those of the Trepleff text she gazes at. Is this a "good" reading? Pauline doesn't even notice what the manuscript says! Or. you were.

which flows uninterruptedly beneath the words. at least. . Nevertheless. as a critique of subtextual acting. The subtext is a prime example of the Derridean supplement: a supposed "mere addition. no great improvement on Masha Prozoroff gazing into a book and whistling or Tchebutykin unfolding his newspaper and bursting into song. Subtextual reading does. A more important indication of Chekhov's mistrust of acting as subtextual reading is that Pauline never actually brings forth the text. not in the sense that they are henceforth no longer present but in the sense that they are henceforth present only as the crust or veil—the "outside"—of another. self-seeking (but therefore. unlike Nina and Arkadina. nontheatrical "bad reader. this cannot be meant literally. is not an actor. the subtext from the actor." exactly describes the transaction between the "author"-character (Trepleff) and the "actor"-character (Pauline) in our scene. But this amounts to saying that the Stanislavskian conception of acting as reading for subtext is already inscribed in this Chekhovian scene of reading as its image of reading per se. in the fact that Pauline. Now." which. And.e. "It is the subtext that makes us say the words we do." But there is also the distinct suggestion that what she is doing isn't acting. one must quickly add.e. in fact. however. In this regard she is.. there is an emblematic truth here. the Chekhovian mistrust of acting as a reading for subtext is also already inscribed there. as a reader." Pauline. does not get around to speaking the words on Trepleff's page. In our scene this supplanting in importance of the text by the subtext becomes a literal supplanting of the former by the latter: Instead of delivering the text (i. This mistrust manifests itself in several ways—for one thing. According to Stanislavski. absorbed and seeking) approach of the ordinary. more authentic "inner" discourse. indeed. "make away with" the words of the script.a text—attention within which the words become transparent (i. reading Trepleff's manuscript) with the subtext somehow "behind" it.." Stanislavski's principle that "the words come from the author. even the most subtext-oriented actor does not omit to deliver his lines. "you'll find it all in the text"? And. Pauline actually delivers the subtext." even with the proviso that he is also a source of misgivings about it. Chekhov—who never wearied of complaining that Stanislavski's approaches distorted his work? Chekhov—who was forever telling the Moscow Art players. this could be taken as implying that acting has something to learn from the self-absorbed. Conceivably. allowing the actor-reader to see through the verbal surface to "the inwardly felt expression of a human being in a part. "disappear"). It may seem outrageous to propose Chekhov as the source of the Stanislavskian concept of "subtext. supplants that which it claims to be only supplementing.

." "Are you sure. For all the affinity he professed to feel for them." he wrote the playwright." he asked Nemirovich-Danchenko. Or alternately: Stanislavski's work methods merely enact the problematic view of reading already present in Chekhov's texts. "I am used. as Chekhov's own plays present reading. our scene. it is possible to act upon—this sentence describes the Chekhovian reader. In other words the "distortion" that Chekhov complained the Stanislavski actor inflicted upon his plays is nothing other than reading itself. Unable to read in and act from the text. Chekhov's misgivings about Stanislavski's techniques merely repeat the misgivings about reading which the plays themselves dramatize. like Pauline. one reads into the text something which. as reader of Chekhov. Stanislavski did not find Chekhov's scripts easy to read." For what they found in Chekhov's text were images of how problematic an act "finding in a text" must be. will "add the subjective elements that are lacking" is to wish for the Stanislavski actor. and the figure of Pauline. Moreover. alongside this last dictum must be placed another very different pronouncement of Chekhov's on reading: When I write. the Stanislavskian actor as forecast by Chekhov. "it can be performed at all?" This last comment reveals Stanislavski. While Chekhov seems to be speaking primarily about readers of his fiction ("in the telling"). that the actual trouble Stanislavski is known to have had as actor-reader of Chekhov's plays is anticipated in those plays' own images of troubled reading. I count upon my reader fully. the first time through. indeed. But I want to go further and argue that the whole encounter of the Stanislavski actor with the Chekhov script is already inscribed in that script. namely. assuming that he himself will add the subjective elements that are lacking in the telling. to wish for a reader who." And. grappling wim what we have seen to be the characteristic dilemma of readers in Chekhov: inability to imagine taking action on the basis of what one has read. Ironically. "to receiving rather confused impressions from the first reading of your plays. A search outside the text and inside the reader for emotional material that "makes [characters] say the words [they] do" was Chekhov's model of the reading process long before it was Stanislavski's theory of subtexts.yet. the solution Stanislavski found to this dilemma is also anticipated in at least one moment of Chekhov's writing. Stanislavski's actors heeded all too well Chekhov's injunction to "find it all in the text. on such a view of reading as Chekhov's. The Sea Gull struck him as "monotonous" and insufficiently "scenic. as already one's own. in whom these meet.

In the present case we possess some information on the actual rehearsal experience of a particular group of actors who worked on the material in question. The treatment that Chekhov's scenes of reading predict for themselves at the hands of actors is the very treatment they received from the Moscow Art players. The Chekhovian scene of reading has seen the future—and it is Stanislavski.In this chapter I have advanced the conjecture that any script's scenes of reading forecast what will be the eventual rehearsal experience of actors working on that script. . and the information confirms the conjecture.

But it is in equal measure odd that so little attention has been afforded the first story published under the name of A. "He Understood" and "The Swedish Match. in the letter of December 25. "At Sea" has an interesting publication history. Soon after its submission. as told by the editors of Chekhov's complete works. Chekhov complained of the tactics of unscrupulous publishers regarding his name. given the significance Suvorin was to have in the development of Chekhov's career and the meaning commonly attached to the signing of one's proper name. FINKE "At Sea": A Psychoanalytic Approach to Chekhov's First Signed Work With the publication of "The Requiem" (Panikhida) in February 1886. a Petersburg daily published by Aleksei Suvorin.) . © 1993 by Northwestern University Press. although the editors would be happy in the future to receive "less spicy" tales. Chekhov apparently grew anxious enough about the provocative subject matter to write a letter to the editors asking that they return the story. This was "At Sea.MICHAEL . Anton Chekhov made his first appearance in Novoe vremia. A short time later. to Nikolai Leykin. Chekhov at the author's own initiative." a very short tale published in Mirskoi tolk in 1883." soon also appeared in different journals. he was told it was too late. 1883. He explained: "I sign with my full family name only in (From Reading Chekhov's Text. Two more stories signed by Chekhov. That this moment receives special mention in biographies of Chekhov is natural. He had submitted the story under the pseudonym Antosha Chekhonte but was persuaded by the paper's editors to attach his real name.

What seems to have especially provoked Chekhov. offered a slighdy reworked "At Sea" under a new title. Almost two decades later Ivan Bunin asked Chekhov to contribute somthing to an almanac projected by the publishing house Skorpion. When revising the story. As happens to the narrator of "A Boring Story" (1889). What Chekhov suppressed—what.Priroda i okhota [where "He Understood" appeared]. lead one to suspect an excessive degree of emotional. then republication of the same story many years later became an occasion for manifesdy hostile feelings. Valéry Bryusov. He was also irritated at the sloppy proofs Skorpion sent him to correct. Might not something in the story be at least partially responsible for both Chekhov's signature and his discomfort? The following assay at a psychoanalytic approach to "At Sea" reveals a deep nexus between the story's most remarkable features: its provocative erotic plot and imagery and the author's revisions. Chekhov normally cut material when making revisions. first. even unconscious. overt signals of intertextual connections with Victor Hugo's Toilers of the Sea and Shakespeare's Hamlet and. in both instances the issue of Chekhov's name was central. involvement. nor did he remove some astonishingly suggestive erotic imagery. and he was angry that the proofs arrived with postage due. But the anxiety and ill will that accompanied each publication of this tale. he wished he had suppressed before he sent the story in eighteen years before—were. details about the relationships between the story's sailor-narrator. however. who had been revising his early pieces for the Marks edition of his collected works. Chekhov saw his name detached from his self and circulated as a coin of exchange. complained in his diary that Chekhov had intentionally sent a story that would be unlikely to pass the censors. was the overprominent use of his name to advertise the almanac in the newspaper Russkie vedomosti. Indeed. ." Less than two months after "At Sea" appeared in Mirskoi tolk. But first we will briefly examine the story's plot and Chekhov's revisions. perhaps. I swore never again to become involved with scorpions. second. anxieties. together with the singular fact of Chekhov's signature. Skorpion's editor. crocodiles. but he was then appalled by the decadent company in which he found himself printed. "At Night". 1901) ended with a pun: "Having read this announcement in Russkie vedomosti. and once I put it under a large story in Strekoza [this was "The Swedish Match"]. and his late mother. Chekhov did not disturb its spicy plot. his father. or snakes. Chekhov neglected to mention it when listing the few stories he had published under his own name to date—a striking indication of his ambivalence regarding the story. Chekhov." If the first publication of a story under Chekhov's own name involved a great deal of anxiety. His letter of complaint to Bunin (March 14. and signature.

The familial relationship between the two peeping Toms creates additional expectations: scenes of mastery and initiation will occur on both sides of me wall. Finally. but from other reasons. the joking sailor who." For had the peepers' desires been strictly pornographic. and the son is also the tale's first-person narrator. and is left alone with the bride. Each of the first three short paragraphs culminates in images that. as lots are drawn to determine who will spy on the newlyweds. cut off from the normal world. as if there were a hole in the back of my head from which little cold shot poured down my naked body. At the same time." . and this bold image— "A little shudder ran from the back of my head to my very heels. either as anticipated by the sailors or as it actually takes place. but there is a hitch in the bridal suite: the bride appears to be reluctant. The setting at sea and at night—both of which Chekhov underlined in various published versions by alternately using them as titles for the story—suggests a space. a banker with whom the couple had been socializing earlier enters. whom his father addresses as "laddie" or "little boy" (mal'chtshka).The Plot The plot tension of "At Sea" is explicitly based on the dynamics of erotic desire: the sailors aboard a steamer have drawn lots to determine which two of them will spy on a newly wed English pastor and his young wife in the bridal suite. thereby also depriving the reader of the voyeuristic titillation promised earlier. assume that he was pleading for himself and that the marriage's consummation will follow. The denouement provokes a moral reevaluation of the sailors. it is a space tailor-made for liminal states. who were unable to hear the husband's words. the reader's position here is no less voyeuristic than the narrator's. crows like a rooster. In the surprise denouement. becomes father to his own father as he helps him up the stairs. Every detail in this miniature relates to the denouement. earlier self-described by the narrator as "more disgusting than anything on earth. When she does finally assent. The stunned sailors leave the peephole without witnessing the sexual act. a man of the cloth is the last husband we would expect to be pimping his own bride. if interpreted with the story's anticipated denouement in mind. Since both the debauched sailors and the story's reader anticipate as payoff or denouement the culmination of two others' sexual act. we peeping Toms. the exchange of privileges for money should have been no cause for them to give up their stations. the roles of father and son are reversed: the son. suggest erotic culmination: the heavy clouds wishing to let go of their rain in a burst. I was shivering not from the cold. The two sailors take their places at the peepholes. The winners are father and son. gives the pastor some money. where anything might happen.

The digression ends: "We drink a lot of vodka. In the denouement the narrator jumps back from his peephole "as if stung" or bitten. as by a serpent (the Russian word here. man who falls all the time. "At Sea" begins as a story about the depravity of the sailor's world but ends as a tale depicting the depravity of the "aristocratic bedroom"—a reversal perhaps banally moralistic. The last image is one of the father and son moving upward in space. while the sailors' reactions in the denouement demonstrate that virtue is necessary to them. it is the vertical space necessary for a fall: "To me it seems that the sailor has more reasons to hate and curse himself than any other. carnal knowledge and egregious sin. The inhabitants of this anti-Eden are compelled to repeat forever the moment of the Fall. we are debauched. because we don't know who needs virtue at sea. uzhalennyi. would be used for a snake bite). His view of his own and his comrades' moral state is summed up by the special kind of space they inhabit. The father's face is described as "similar to a baked apple". who knows God only when he is drowning or plunging headfirst. the narrator focuses on the sailor's world. they rely on luck. and idealized love." Here the sailor embodies man in his fallen state. and for what. These can be divided into three chief areas: his handling of subtextual references to Hugo." Yet the anticipated coupling between pastor and bride is special precisely because of its aura of idealized love and virtue. . needs nothing and feels pity for nothing in existence. which will be reversed in the denouement. God's representative. This opposition. his bride. For the pastor. compulsively. however. but not untypical of the early Chekhov. Here we might compare the way negotiations are carried out between the banker and the pastor with the sailors' method of deciding who among them will receive voyeuristic satisfaction of their erotic desires. At the moment. to decide the matter. Both literally and figuratively. Subtexts Now we return to the question of Chekhov's revisions. The latter cast lots. God's will. he who can pay gets what he wants. even if they do not expect to take part in it.Next follows a digression that sets up an opposition between the debauched seaman's world and the virginal world of the newly wed pastor. is later made explicit in the passage juxtaposing the space where the peepers stand with the space of the bridal suite. A person who might every moment fall from a mast and be immersed forever under the waves. The woman whom the sailor idealizes as a love object becomes a commodity for the pastor and the banker. this motif has special resonance in the context of a story about falls.

The characters and setting of "At Sea" are quite exotic for Chekhov.his handling of references to Shakespeare. "Chekhov cut a direct 'bibliographic key'—an allusion to the original object of parody: 'the loud. Chekhov's career-long involvement with Shakespeare. he is spying on her when the pastor declares his love and kisses her for the first time. To the echoes Nazirov notes can be added Chekhov's handling of the plot device of reversal: men whose exemplary virtue is remarked on by Hugo's narrator repeatedly turn out to be utter scoundrels. as Gilliatt commits suicide by allowing the rising tide to cover him where he sits. Nazirov recently revealed the story to be a parody of Victor Hugo's Toilers of the Sea (Les travailleurs de la mer. and one suspects from the start that they have been imported. and his decision to drop certain details regarding the familial relations of the two peepers. and it is a staple of the early Chekhov. and even at the novel's melodramatic end. Gilliatt. The second subtext obscured in the revisions was Hamlet. he likely found the story unsatisfactory in form and no less unsettling in content than when it was first published." In the 1883 version of "At Sea. Rather. In particular. Ebenezer. drunken laughter of toilers of the sea. he is watching Deruchette and Ebenezer hold hands on the deck of a departing steamer. Left behind in despair is the extraordinary seaman. It is highly improbable that when Chekhov returned to this story while editing his early stories for the Marks edition of his works he revised it to further a project of setting the world straight on the issue of romantic love. such as that of peeping: the lovesick Gilliatt spies on Deruchette for four years before he takes action to win her. The Russian scholar R. 1866). who once saved Ebenezer's life and to whom Deruchette was promised. One effect of Chekhov's revisions was to distance "At Sea" from Hugo's novel. "Shakespeare is mentioned so often in the stories and plays of Chekhov that one could call him one of Chekhov's heroes.g." It has been suggested that Chekhov's diminution of "stylistic mimicry" of Hugo was meant to place greater emphasis on the story's critique of romantic aestheticism. Deruchette. Here the customary strategy of improving the rhythm of his prose. especially with Hamlet. shortening dialogues.. however. certainly deserves the epithet obsessive. As one Russian critic has put it. and pruning some of the melodramatic imagery eliminated the excesses so characteristic of Hugo's style and thereby weakened the links between this parody and its target text. is departing on a steamer with his bride. Chekhov's story echoes the opposition between the coarse laborer of the sea and the refined representative of God. is a theme that has lent itself to lighthearted narrative treatment for ages (e. "At Sea" picks up where Toilers leaves off: the English pastor. in the fabliau)." the steamer's . and it repeats certain central motifs. G. Debunking romantic love.

including . HORATIO: And then it started like a guilty thing Upon a fearful summons. this fantasy places the narrator on the other side of the wall at which he will soon be standing. retold in Chekhov's short masterpiece of 1894. The cock's crow and the narrator's shudder. the narrator goes on deck and previews in fantasy the scene to be staged in the bridal suite: I lit a pipe and began looking at the sea. the cock's crow is an erotic allusion." and which ends with a torrent of self-reproaches. in For the sailor imitating the sound and those who are amused by it. words. As he utters "I love you" and stretches his hands toward the phantasm he has conjured. Such an underlining of the Hamlet motif leads one to look for other allusions. it is also a "fearful summons" heard by a "guilty thing. In the original version of the story. It was dark. "The Student. they recall act II. Against the night's black backdrop I made out the hazy image of that which had been the object of our drawing lots. The moment is paralleled in "At Sea" in the narrator's reaction during the dumb show of the wedding night: if the crime of treating the bride as an object to be bought and sold stuns him. discussed above. this is perhaps because it echoes what he and his shipmates did when they created and raffled the use of the peepholes. In Hamlet this shudder at the recollection of one's guilt is repeated when Claudius sees his crime portrayed in Hamlet's mousetrap. however. stretching my hands toward the darkness. but there must have been blood boiling in my eyes." In the Gospel tale of Peter's denial. is mentioned five times—this in a work of under five pages. scene ii. in which he utters the line "Words. where Hamlet enters reading." the rooster's call has a similar meaning. "I love you!" I gasped. who has been contemplating his fallen state and is full of self-reproaches. In a sense. and several can be found. The motifs of dreaming and reading also associate the narrator with Hamlet. Prince Hamlet. the narrator imagines himself in the place of the one man who in reality has the right to utter these words and embrace the woman—the bridegroom. This expression "I love" I knew from books lying around in the canteen on the upper shelf. recall the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet's father: BARNARDO: It was about to speak when the cock crew. for the narrator. words.

(The erotic connotations that can be associated with "getting lucky" work in Russian as well as in English translation. son? It occurs to me that when we were drawing lots your mother—that is." he says. In the 1883 version. when the father asks the son to switch peepholes so that he. In the original version." And yet Chekhov chose to obscure the story's connection with Hamlet when revising it. with his weaker eyes. The "that is" (in Russian. judge of Israel. the son strikes his father." where the bridegroom sacrifices his wife for financial gain. Do you hear." thereby accusing the father of sacrificing Ophelia to gain favor with Claudius." he said. the elder sailor addresses his son after they win the lottery: "Today. or lampoon Russian pseudo Hamlets and latter-day superfluous men. the contrastive conjunction a) separating the two designations "your mother" and "my wife" underlines the different functions this one woman held for the two men. perhaps. laddie. laddie. Chekhov cut out explicit motifs of antagonism between father and son. the narrator of "At Sea" is no less liberal with criticism of himself.. Something more substantial is taking place in "At Sea. might see better. "My father respected my fist. you and I have gotten lucky." As we have seen. toothless mouth with a smile. There allusions to Shakespeare are usually comically distorted citations that sharpen a character's speech characteristics.his calling himself "John-a-dreams. There is a clear thematic connection with "At Sea. Chekhov's recourse to Hamlet in this story appears distinctive when compared with references in his other early narrative works. It is also in act II. "You know what.) In the 1901 version this exchange is replaced by the father's words: "Today. The third area of changes in Chekhov's revision of "At Sea" involves suppressing all mention of the narrator's late mother and toning down the hostility between the narrator and his father... And that means something. . that Hamlet calls Polonius "Jephthah. In addition to leaving the mother in peace. you and I have gotten lucky. scene ii. is what it has displaced from the story's earlier version: the mother. my wife—was praying for us." What this odd coincidence means. laddie? Happiness has befallen you and me at the same time. twisting his sinewy. Ha-ha!" "You can leave my mother in peace!" I said. reveal a farcically pretentious character's lack of culture.

the old sailor at the peephole and the pastor (or the reverend father). in spite of Bryusov's concerns. or infers on the basis of certain indications. at a deeper level." In "At Sea" the scene is portrayed with idiosyncrasies and distortions characteristic of the work of the defense mechanism of repression. was received as an imitation of Maupassant. the story was passed by the censors: giving works non-Russian settings and characters and presenting an original work as a translation or an imitation of a foreign author were long-standing techniques for evading prohibition. Perhaps this helps explain why. These include splitting the father into two figures." that archetypal peeping situation." the version rewritten for Ivan Bunin in 1901. whose conjugal place the narrator has already taken in his fantasies (when he is on deck with outstretched arms in the story's first version). that is. Behind the incident of voyeurism we can see many features of the "primal scene. "At Night. when Chekhov revised the story for Skorpion. might this not be true of Chekhov's internal censor as well? Recourse to the exotic Hugo subtext and to Hamlet may have facilitated the emergence of very sensitive material. and phantasies. . his alterations of these subtexts in the original version of "At Sea" directly parallel Freud's interpretation of Shakespeare's play: they superimpose direct conflict with the father onto an impossible erotic desire. It is generally interpreted by the child as an act of violence on the part of the father. he attenuated the agonistic relationship with the father and the Hugo and Hamlet connections in equal measures. had the story not been written some sixteen years prior to Freud's first public discussion of Oedipus and Prince Hamlet in The Interpretation of Dreams. Hamlet. one would be sorely tempted to conjecture about Freud's influence on Chekhov. there is a transformation in which the "either me or you" or "not me but you" as rightful agents of erotic desire for the mother figure into a "both me and you. To the extent that Chekhov departed from the situations and configurations of characters given him in Hugo's Toilers and.The Primal Scene "At Sea" is so laden and ready to burst with motifs of Oedipal strivings that." This helps explain the uncanny stroke of luck— "that means something"—by which both father and son have won the right to stand at the peepholes. The story's English characters and Shakespearean steamer led the censors to take its original version as a translation from English. But if elements of foreignness acted as a screen from government censors. defined in psychoanalytic literature as a "scene of sexual intercourse between the parents which the child observes. They also make it possible for the father and the son to share the object of desire even as they contest for her. Years later.

The two traits are deliberately entangled in Chekhov's 1889 story "An Attack of Nerves" (Pripadok). on the model of Hamlet's mousetrap. it was necessary to spread the muslin apart with two fingers." where Chekhov can be said to expose himself in a story depicting scopophilia. they might hear us. the sailor's conscience has been captured—with the difference that his most serious crime was no more than a transgressive wish. The dialogue between father and son as they are waiting in anticipation at their stations vocalizes." This is certainly the case in "At Sea. transparent muslin. on a different plane of meaning—as just such a castrating trauma. The aristocratic bedroom. otverstie. a mechanism typical of obsessional neurosis. the notion of hymen is. after all. Indeed. The shock is all the more effective when juxtaposed with the images of excessive and impatient potency at the story's start. And together with the light there touched my burning face a suffocating. pink light penetrated to me. can refer to an orifice in the anatomical sense as well. through which a soft. In order to see the bedroom. Once again. At the same time. with its ambivalently perceived scent. now it appears to be a neurotic symptom. Chekhov himself consciously associated publishing and exhibitionism when he told I. what makes the anticipated coupling of newlyweds special." In theory it is the child who can be traumatized by his lack of potency in the Oedipal stage." and "Be quiet. most pleasant odor. thoughts belonging to the situation of the primal scene: "Let me take your place. In tracing the vicissitudes of the peeping compulsion. just such a substitution is made. Yasinsky that he wrote under a pen name to . here the old man complains of his weak eyes. A full-scale psychoanalytic interpretation of the story would only be beginning at this point.The narrator's positioning at his peephole actually begins as a dreamlike image of penetration into a low and dark place: "I felt out my aperture and extracted the rectangular piece of wood I had whittled for so long. is revealed only after a parting of the hymeneal "muslin". this had to be the odor of an aristocratic bedroom. the sailor's reaction was interpreted as revealing an essential morality. before his eyes.I. The narrator's sudden solicitous attitude toward his father—helping him up the stairs— may be interpreted as an attempt to undo this fantasy. the exchange represents the uncanny event of a wish fulfilled: the narrator's investment in this scene is predicated on a fantasy of taking the pastor-father's place. Earlier. And I saw a thin. after a process of displacement. which I hurried to do. We can interpret the "stung" reaction of the narrator at the denouement—once again." The Russian here for orifice. Freud treats scopophilia and exhibitionism as inextricably linked opposites "which appear in ambivalent forms. and now. with potency redefined in pounds sterling and the idealized pastor-father exposed in his lack of it.

and parents. from this day on I myself will pay for Masha's schooling!" The definite antierotic strain in Chekhov's life and works may well bespeak an inadequate resolution of the issues glimpsed in "At Sea. at times even sadistic bearing toward women with whom he skirted serious involvement. Psychoanalytic theory has it that the son's identification with the father. The narrator portrays his father as laying down the moral law and so impinging on his natural process of maturation: "Let's get out of here! You shouldn't see this! You are still a boy. this gesture of paternal authority appears ludicrous. however. in humorous paraphrasings it became a synonym for "a lot. some of Chekhov's later." The narrator's fantasies and voyeurism are fundamentally autoerotic acts. recalls Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia and his mother. the women he claims to love. ironic. who was fond of reading religious texts aloud. Chekhov came to her and announced. full-length stories that are notable for their representation of psychopatho-logical states—in particular "Ward Six" (1892)—very carefully situate certain characters' psychological problems in respect to their relations with their fathers. was following a patient in a clinic for nervous disorders. who at the time. It happens that the measure by which Hamlet quantifies his love for the dead Ophelia—more than "forty thousand brothers" (Vi. both features of ambivalent Oedipal dynamics. Chekhov Chekhov wrote "At Sea" as a twenty-two-year-old medical student." Chekhov's coy. Mama. which then culminates with the father's order to desist.269)—was a favorite citation of the early Chekhov. In Chekhov's own family. the Bible can be associated with Chekhov's pedantically religious father. while the contradictory situation of father and son peeping together." More to the point. moreover. "Well. The past few years had seen a "tangling up of the family sequence" in which Chekhov had become in a sense the father of his own brothers. sister. . incidentally. Just what Chekhov's new status meant to him is hinted at in Tatyana Shchepkina-Kupernik's retelling of a favorite story of Chekhov's mother: still a student." By now. could at once dramatize a wish for union with the father and the father's injunction against autoerotic activity. notably Lika Mizinova. This was chiefly a result of his ability to bring money— that same signifier of authority that displaces the Bible in "At Sea"—into the clan after his father's disastrous bankruptcy.avoid feelings of shame: "It was just like walking naked with a large mask on and showing oneself like that to the public.

is coming to me in Yalta. too. But there may be more at issue than the Chekhov family dynamics and their reflection in the author's psyche. or performed by untalented actors. It is clearly an uneasy identity. "At Sea" juxtaposes two subtexts of vastly different literary value. Whether imitated by would-be authors." dedicated to Victor Hugo). . "At Sea. the play he wrote while still in Taganrog and subsequently destroyed. all of which are based on his sailor's calling. . is another matter. On receiving a telegram of condolence from V. Chekhov treats this predecessor as does the sailor-narrator his own father. 1898: "I am waiting for Antigone. that is. Fully one-third of "At Sea" involves the narrator's self-reproaches. Shakespeare in Chekhov's works is a benchmark against which pretension stands revealed. very often to comic effect. I really need it. We've got to think up something new. Together we'll decide how to arrange things now. for you promised to send it. ." depicts a son overtaking the father. For Chekhov. Later in life. I'm waiting for my sister") that casts the shadow of Oedipus's family onto his own. however. misquoted by pretentious buffoons. and the upshot of his comment is: Now that my father is dead. just after his father died—when he must have been meditating on his relationship with his father—Chekhov made an oblique association between his own family and that of Oedipus. In parodying Hugo's melodramatic situations and stylistic excesses (as Chekhov had done in the 1880 spoof "One Thousand and One Horrors. After the death of our father. I'm waiting. This comes about after acquiescence to what is perceived as the father's threat of castration and the renunciation of erotic desire for the mother. closes the Oedipal stage. was titled Fatherless (Bezottsovshchina). Shakespeare. And this notion of pretension might apply equally to the ill-equipped youngster who boldly advances an .his accession to the father's name. Chekhov's very first ambitious literary attempt. our mother will hardly want to live alone in the country. Nemirovich-Danchenko on behalf of Konstantin Stanislavsky and the others in the Moscow Art Theater. as she has telegraphed. my mother will want to live with me. any identification with his real father would have been terribly problematic." Chekhov sets up a parallelism ("I'm waiting for Antigone. I'm waiting for my sister. in subsequent years Chekhov was to sign his own name only when he had already become a prominent literary figure and when his ascendancy over the family of his father was beyond dispute. The first story Chekhov signed with the name of his father. The allusions in "At Sea" to Hugo and Shakespeare—and their elimination in the story's revision— invite consideration of Chekhov's relations with his literary fathers. Chekhov replied in a letter of October 21. who. the professional identity shared with and given him by his father. Hugo may be openly and easily displaced. I.

By the time Chekhov revised the story in 1901. to sign his own name. but at least for once in his life he has shown boldness. It is his end.erotic claim on his parent and to the young author who declares his identity as an author for the first time by signing his proper name. who laces his speech with citations from Hamlet. should be engaged with Hamlet." the figure of Prince Hamlet had served Russian literature as a paradigm for the inability to translate desires and talents into action for decades. however. When Chekhov wrote "At Sea. a failed actor who had shown great talent but lacked courage. In any case. the early Chekhov repeatedly associated the fateful moment of asserting one's identity in spite of feelings of inadequacy and probable failure with Hamlet. In "Baron" (1882). There is even evidence that he had become a conscious theorist of Oedipal anxieties and their implication in the problems of authorship: in The Sea Gull (1896). is carried away during a performance of Hamlet and begins declaiming the lines he should have been whispering to the red-haired youth playing the Prince. he has declaimed. the young writer Treplev. . his place as an author was secure. must contest an established author of the preceding generation for both the affection of his mother and recognition as an author. How appropriate that the story in which Chekhov decides to be Chekhov. but one that perhaps nevertheless indicates anxiety about failure and a wish to forestall it. He is kicked out of the theater altogether. the seedy prompter. The allusion to Hamlet in "At Sea" is a kind of a joke about that paradigm.

incidentally. atheist. allein mir fehlt der Glaube. Cyril (Constantine). "to worship. and in obozhat'. —Goethe. "without"+ -theos. the root of whose name appears in bog.ROBERT LOUIS JACKSON "The Enemies": A Story at War with Itself? Die Botschaft hor'ich wohl." Abogin is a wealthy gentleman. "Vragi" (Enemies). thus suggesting the Greek atheos (a-. Are there no imbalances in the story? The title. Kirilov is a doctor. we are told." "rich"." "to adore. © 1993 by Northwestern University Press." Indeed. carries us into one of the oldest and most disturbing realms of human experience. There are two protagonists who become enemies: Kirilov and Abogin. St.) ." Oddly enough. it is symmetry itself that is disturbing to the reader. "god"). we learn. Russian for "god. the name of a missionary who brought Christianity to Russia. who has "experienced need and ill fortune. Abogin worships his wife like a slave." "master") and echoes." or bogatyi. Kirilov's name has its root in the Greek kyrios ("Lord. Faust The principle of symmetry governs Chekhov's story "The Enemies. Chekhov also may have meant the name Abogin to be understood as a Greek-Russian hybrid in which the Greek alpha privitive a combines with the Russian word bog. "wealthy. (From Reading Chekhov's Text.

I understand. Kirilov into visiting his presumably sick wife. Not without reason does the narrator early in the story observe that "the highest expression of happiness or unhappiness most often is silence. Terribly upset. but then turns out to be the deception of a woman who feigns mortal illness in order to run off with another man." In turn." The equilibrium established through silence. It is now Kirilov's turn not to understand the suffering or distress that afflicts Abogin. "I understand perfectly your situation. his wife's flight from the house with her lover. he is the cuckold. Every word he uses seems to violate it. "I do not understand." Does nature." and Abogin. likewise rages. The story divides neatly into two parts. Even the crows. Abogin experiences what he first takes to be the serious illness of his wife. who is mortally offended at the violent insults of Kirilov. one in which. too. ." In fact. We discover how he meets his real misfortune. In the first part we are in Kirilov's house and learn how he meets his misfortune. "I do not understand." Yet paradoxically these two men are closest to each other in their silence. A transitional episode occurs in which both characters are on the road together traveling to Abogin's house. "You are in sorrow. These differences explode in class hatred. he does not understand Kirilov's suffering. The second part of the story takes place in Abogin's house. as if they knew that the doctor's son was dead and Abogin's wife was ill. it turns out." In fact. For one moment they seem joined in their misery. Kirilov compares the suffering of the wealthy Abogin to that of a contented "capon." Kirilov keeps repeating as Abogin recounts the banalities of his bedroom melodrama. With the contempt of a man who obviously has faced the harsh realities of lower-class existence in his own and other people's lives. though what he understands he cruelly caricatures. Abogin rages over this deception. Abogin arrives barely five minutes after the death of Kirilov's child. in the blindness of his distress. is not long lasting. have a premonition that what unites these two men in their misery is their inability to communicate? "In all of nature one felt something hopeless.Both of these men suffer misfortunes at the same time: Kirilov endures the death of his only child. awakened by the noise of the carriage wheels. lovers understand one another better when they are silent. The carriage crosses a river." Abogin tells Kirilov several times. sick. Abogin. a line that seems to divide not only the two territories the men inhabit but also their social and psychic habitations. however. nonjudgmentally give out "an anxious pitiful wail. he pressures the reluctant Dr. Kirilov does understand something of the world of Abogin. There is a stormy clash between the two men: Kirilov is outraged at being called upon to participate in what he calls a "vulgar [family] comedy" or "melodrama.

but something—wanting in this interpretation. Yet I find something—not everything. will not pass and will remain in the doctor's mind to the very grave. are victims of a fundamental misunderstanding. responds furiously: "For such words people are thrashed! Do you understand?" The story ends with Abogin and Kirilov going their separate ways. Abogin drives off "to protest." Suffering divides Kirilov and Abogin. Kirilov's sorrow will pass. the kind that lies at the root of so many divisions between human beings. have tipped in favor of Abogin. and her lover. then. And a firm conviction concerning those people took shape in his mind. one in which the "godless" Abogin has overtaken the "Christian" Kirilov in the sympathies of the reader? So much for the symmetries and neat pattern of reversals on which this story and its conventional interpretation thrive.reaching back into the dark class history of Russia." Kirilov drives off. "The unhappy are egoistic. full of "unjust and inhumanly cruel thoughts" about Abogin. but what you call beauty is ugliness. no foundation for anybody to say. but this conviction. cruel. Papchinsky. I accept it with my head—I see the design very well—but I do not ." There is much to recommend this interpretation of the story. The scales. drives people apart. to do foolish things. Both are bearers of a certain measure of truth. then. his wife. and they are balanced. the narrator tells us. Have they been tipping in that direction in the second half of the story? Do the prestigiously located words at the end of the story signal that on the deeper ethical plane of the story's meaning a reversal of roles has taken place. The narrator himself interprets in a very judicious way the events he narrates: the "egoism of suffering. Unhappiness does not bring people together but draws them apart. condemns all three of them and "all people who live in rosy subdued light and smell of scent. not thinking of his wife nor of (his son) Andrei. "My suffering is deeper than yours. it would seem. unjust." he observes. but only as it relates to their own unhappiness. Or rather. that is." The final words of the story. to reach out to him. There is no such thing as a hierarchy of suffering. unjust. spiteful. unworthy of the human heart. Chekhov appears to be saying. Only Chekhov and his narrator—the narrator in this interpretation is Chekhov—are aware of the full and complex truth involving Kirilov and Abogin. Time will pass. with respect to the whole truth both are blind. All the way home he hated and despised them to the point of pain in his heart. Kirilov." any more than there is a basis for somebody to say that "what I call beauty is beauty. The protagonists. Suffering is suffering. as enemies. and less capable of understanding each other than fools. speak of Kirilov's permanent failure to overcome his deep hostility toward Abogin. Thus Chekhov emerges as a kind of arbiter: he holds in his hands the scales of justice.

had no patience with what he called the "conciliatory" element in the story. was expressed in the poetic detail of the text. however." in its "subtext. it is this fact that awakens the story." . and life-styles. in this story Chekhov moves "beyond his instinctive sympathies and antipathies to defend the rights and dignity of a comparatively shallow man. and the reader. between two different realities—that I find Chekhov's sympathies and my own leaning toward Kirilov. and his antipathies with Abogin. His sympathies seem to lie with Kirilov. "The 'conciliatory' element introduced by Chekhov in the story. as so many of Chekhov's stories are. Yermilov. though I may be the second. Indeed." The apparent direction of Chekhov's effort is well stated here. Loudly blowing his class trumpet. finally. Yermilov believed. Yermilov. The crisis only brings into broad relief certain underlying realities.wholly feel it with my heart. enigmatic. I am not the first person seriously to raise some of these questions. Yet I would argue that Chekhov's instinct and intent are to some extent at cross-purposes with one another. he discovered only a repressed message of class antagonisms in the story. Let me be absolutely clear: Chekhov. Chekhov does not appear to me to approach his two protagonists in an evenhanded way. It is on this deeper level of their misunderstanding—a misunderstanding. we are inclined to say that the men part as "enemies" not only because an extraordinary coincidence of circumstances has plunged them into the "egoism of suffering" but also because they are enemies in some deeper sense. an understanding well formulated in Beverly Hahn's view that "the story is primarily concerned with the intersecting needs of different lives and consequently with the relativity of moral claims". are all agreed that both men as they exchange insults at the end of the story really are equally at fault. More than forty years ago the Soviet ideologist V V. Approaching the story from this direction. what he felt to be Chekhov's hatred of the "parasitical" and "banal" Abogin. in the deep subterranean current of the story. a heavy-handed but not unintelligent critic. Yet in the course of the story Chekhov presents the misunderstanding between the two men in the context of radical differences between these men in their personalities. against prejudice". for me at least. the narrator. Whether or not we subscribe to the view that these two men are divided on a deeper level of enmity. Chekhov's near-caricature of Abogin's language and personality complicates an exclusively ecumenical understanding of the story. from its ecumenical dream and makes it at once intriguing. and that. and ambiguous. modes of suffering. as it were. and one might say that the design is brilliantly executed. that the story is "a plea for understanding. suggested that Chekhov views were not expressed directly in the text: "They live as it were under the text. I think." Chekhov's sympathy for the little man.

" Dostoevsky once observed. We may object to reducing the conflict of Abogin and Kirilov to a Marxist class struggle. and can be explained by the 'pacifist' influence of Tolstoy's teachings that Chekhov was experiencing just at this moment. there came a sharp ring at the bell in the entry. seems to have unbalanced Yermilov's critical mind. which was implemented in a grim way in the Soviet Union. and the fact that on the objective plane of expression. where the spectacle of suffering and personality is concerned. There is no trace of such an approach here. Chekhov resolved this kind of problem through characterizations that combine in miraculous ways the comic and the lyrical.Yermilov insisted. but simply to convey stark. certainly shallow. but we cannot avoid treating the question of Chekhov's uneven treatment of his two protagonists." Words here seek not to express an attitude toward the event. alien to the poetry of the work. died of diphtheria. as we shall see." The bell that breaks the silence of the Kirilovs' suffering announces the arrival of Abogin and. The second sentence is dominated by one image. Kirilov nonetheless emerges as a person of dark strength and integrity. terrible fact. the six-year-old Andrei. We need only imagine the problem a theatrical adaptation of "The Enemies" would present to a director who understood the story exclusively in its ecumenical dimension. seemingly indifferent to life and people through prolonged contact with a bitter reality. to undercut Abogin. that he could weep over a child. that of the Pieta. the intrusion into the ." the narrator remarks. "is clearly alluvial." The opening two lines of the story introduce us to the Kirilovs' suffering. Abogin comes across as slightly foppish. one who has lived his values. "Just as the doctor's wife sank on her knees by the dead child's bed and was overwhelmed by the first wave of despair. Let us now turn our attention to the question of imbalances in Chekhov's characterization of Kirilov and Abogin. "one would not believe that this person had a wife. harsh and embittered in manner. The first sentence is like a terse comunique: "At around ten o'clock on a dark September evening the district doctor Kirilov's only child." The concept of class enemies. But we must give the devil his due: Yermilov rightly calls attention to Chekhov's tendency. on the other hand. Unattractive and ungainly in looks and shape. What is the problem here? Perhaps it is only an aesthetic one. and in some respects even comic? In his major plays. How should one depict Abogin? How does one convey two realities: the fact that on the subjective plane of experience Abogin really does suffer the apparent illness of his wife and then her deceit (suffering is suffering). the tragic and the ridiculous. Comment is superfluous. "The most lofty beauty is not without but within. "Looking at his desiccated figure. on the one hand. to elevate Kirilov and his suffering and.

In the pervading numbness. that "the elusive beauty of human sorrow" such as . perhaps. . his unsteady. as dark as the unlighted lamp that Kirilov abstractedly touches as he passes into the bedroom. and everything was at rest." writes the narrator. That repellent horror that people think of when they speak of death was absent from the bedroom. "Kirilov listened and was silent." Abogin's second attempt to break through the silence is met by a recapitulation of the story's terse opening line: "Excuse me. suffering." In the moments that follow (a page and a half of the text) the reader is drawn into the bleak and tragic world of the death scene. the bottles. my son died . as though besides the anguish of their loss they were conscious. I can't go ." Again. as in Chekhov's story "Kashtanka. The stranger is not only Abogin. precisely that subtle. Five minutes ago . and on the bed "a boy with open eyes and an expression of wonder on his face. one that announces itself at every turn and is full of superfluous commentary. the mother kneeling down before the bed. Abogin's first wave of words. and beauty we have witnessed. the unlighted lamp. stunned. but the open eyes of wonder erase the line that separates life from death. . Kirilov's glance into an unidentified "thick book" lying on the table (one may presume. in the indifference on the doctor's face. the details are singular: the candle. the large lamp illuminating the room. ." Death is closure.story of a radically different expression of suffering. Only at the end of this silent scene does the narrator speak directly of the ensemble of death. his appeal to the doctor for assistance. Every detail speaks mutely of the catastrophe: Kirilov standing with his back to Abogin. mechanical walk. there was something that attracted and touched the heart. too. is met by silence. But "a silence ensued. about exhaustion." Abogin. momentarily seems to consider leaving. . Beauty was also felt in the somber stillness. and that it seems only music can convey. The reader thinks the obvious: that Chekhov has learned to understand and paint such suffering. almost elusive beauty of human sorrow that it will take men a long time to learn to understand and describe. Kirilov and his wife were silent and not weeping. in the mother's pose. he continues to press the doctor to come. nevertheless. "Everything to the smallest detail spoke eloquently of the storm that had just been experienced. as though he did not understand Russian speech. the reference to a "stranger" in the entry." the stranger is also death. "Here in the bedroom reigned a dead silence. . of all the poetry of their condition. that the book is the Bible). .

The word rad (glad) is repeated often. Boga radi. he spoke in brief. The spectacle of suffering of the Kirilovs is lyrical." his own poetics of suffering. By contrast. "What do you want?" "Oh.. . The spectacle of suffering of Abogin is melodramatic and lowered by the details of his personality and surroundings.. and Dai-to Bog. It produces a strangely incongruous effect. jerky sentences and "uttered a great many unnecessary. "I am at home. vidit Bog. our head tells us. "I myself am profoundly unhappy. isstradalsia." Abogin is distressed. suffers in his own way. . for a moment. irrelevant words. and squeezed it tightly in his own. And I've a carriage. Whether or not Chekhov's own tableau of sorrow. On the way to you I suffered terribly [isstradalsia dushoi]. The narrator notes in his shaking voice "an unaffected sincerity and childlike uncertainty. Finally. contradicts the seriousness and urgency of his mission. Bozhe mod." In any ordinary sense Kirilov's remark is absurd. and he began feeling in the dark for the doctor's hand. Only the . . and I had the pleasure of seeing you in the summer at Gnuchev's. in his name. . "I'm very. however. "Is the doctor at home?" asks the person who enters the room. carries any objective weight is a matter for each reader to decide. . found it. in view of Abogin's distress. . tragic. Suffering is suffering. it's you? I'm very glad!" rejoiced the newcomer (ochen' rad. Let us go back. Ei-Bogu. It is a fact worth noting that the word Bog (God) in one form or another is repeatedly on Abogin's lips. The reader could think further that although there is absolutely no basis for anybody to say. For God's sake [Boga radi] don't refuse to come with me now . indeed. obradovalsia voshed-shit). "What I call beauty is beauty. is that Chekhov stands in intimate relation to the Pietà he has created. .we find in this first scene of "The Enemies" is like music. . the name of God only once passes the lips of Kirilov. by itself and within words: obradovalsia. very glad! [Ochen'. radi Boga." His selection of words. I'm very glad [ochen' rad] that I found you in . And indeed this is how Abogin incongruously comes across to us. Abogin. Yet Chekhov depicts the suffering Abogin in a way that demeans his suffering. A-bog-in. his Boga radi and radi Boga almost pass into radi Abogina (for Abogin's sake). has learned of his wife's betrayal. Kirilov responds scornfully. . Abogin. it does not concern you. ochen'rad] We are acquainted! I'm Abogin ." answers Kirilov." his own "feeling of beauty. "Unhappy? Do not touch this word. My wife is dangerously ill ." nonetheless Chekhov in "The Enemies" has presented to us in this tableau his own conception of the "beauty of human sorrow. ." Abogin tells the increasingly disturbed and angry Kirilov after he." Frightened and overwhelmed. anymore than Botticelli's or Michelangelo's. and what you call beauty is ugliness. to the first scene in which the narrator introduces Abogin to us. What is certain. .

egotistically radi Abogina (for the sake of Abogin) about Abogin and his use of words. health. indeed. it may even be said that Abogin's tone contradicts his words. The "irrelevant" words rad (glad. happy) and udovolstvie (pleasure) that crop up in Abogin's speech are signal words: they are not merely expressions of a distressed man who has lost control of his language. to something basic in his personality. but really I am inviting you not to do some dental work or to a consultation. Yet it is a truth that is not usually uttered by one who directly faces the loss of a loved one. I'm not made of wood [doktor. even in crises. or god] kak rab). and assurance." figuratively. ja ne istukan]. The narrator speaks of Abogin's "contentedness [sytost7]. "You have suffering. I sympathize with you. Later . Indeed. A life is higher than any personal suffering! Really.. No words about love or sacrifice pass his lips."thick book" hints at Kirilov's relationship to God. "Doctor." Abogin says to Kirilov when. only disappears when Abogin learns of his wife's deception. for heroism! in the name of humanity!" Wthout any question. Whether we ascribe it to his distress. I understand. "I won't survive it!" (Esli chto sluchitsia. but to save a human life! ." Even before his quarrel with Abogin.. "If something happens [to her]. Abogin is terribly upset. we learn that Abogin loved his wife "fervently like a slave" ( Ja liubil nabozhno [the root of this word is bog. There is something banal and shallow about this man. The focus here is oddly upon himself.." he says pleadingly to Kirilov.." But there is something oddly unfeeling about Abogin. there is something out of place in Abogin's way of expressing himself: "My God." This expression of "contentedness" (sytosti). I'm asking for courage. the narrator notes.. On the other hand. Kirilov early observes in Abogin's house "a stuffed wolf as substantial and content [sytyi] as Abogin himself. it also means "idol" or "statue. religion—if we choose to remember the double meaning of sluzhba (both "service" as in civil service and "service" as in religious services). We have translated the word istukan as "piece of wood". the two men are on their way to Abogin's house. we are told. say something about ourselves. or perhaps. "You never love those close to you as when you are in danger of losing them. Authentic love does not comment on itself. ia ne perezbivu). He is out of touch with his words." There is. I understand your situation perfectly. at last. a person without feeling. that "he sacrificed the civil service and music" (brosil sluzhbu i muzyku) for his wife. to. "he regained his expression of contentedness [sytosti] and refined elegance. There is some truth in this observation. there is no music in his life. But as he waits for his carriage a short while later. Yet our words. something childishly. but they point to a residual sense of self-satisfaction and egoism that characterizes the man.. ." Abogin exclaims in the carriage. or to both. naively.

who has worshiped his wife like a slave. would take effect. Yet Chekhov makes it difficult for us to respond sympathetically to him: "In general the phrase. however lofty and profound it may be. Chekhov indeed intended the name Abogin to be understood as a Greek-Russian hybrid (with the a in his name representing the Greek alpha privitive meaning "without"). he reaches out to Kirilov (he presses his hand on meeting him. In the case of Abogin. if not his words. acts only on the indifferent but cannot always satisfy those who are happy or unhappy. passionate speech spoken at the grave moves only bystanders. "but it was remarkable that whatever words he uttered all sounded stilted." The classical Greek view was that every character is at the root of his own fate. lovers understand each other better when they are silent. Just as his eyes "laugh with pain. therefore the highest expression of happiness or unhappiness is most often silence. while a feverish. whereas to the widow or children of the deceased it seems cold and insignificant. soulless. The more we learn about him and see him in his own environment. Abogin enters the living room. he more truthfully declares: "Oh. as suggested at the outset of our discussion. better that she should have died! I won't be able to bear it! I won't be able to bear it!" (la ne vynesu! Ne vynesu ia!). . so that at least sincerity of tone. is suddenly "without" his deity. tlie style is the man. his god. then the sound that he despairingly utters when he discovers that his wife has deceived him may conceal a Chekhovian joke: Abogin. "Abogin was sincere." Abogin is by no means a man without genuine feelings." the narrator remarks early in the story about Abogin's way of expressing himself. He felt this himself.when he learns of his wife's deception. Again the focus is upon himself. This slightly foppish and contented man—this naive and shallow man who abandoned music and the service slavishly to attend to a capricious and fast-living wife—is the kind of banal character to whom banal things happen. Here is how the narrator describes Abogin at the time he discovers his wife's betrayal: The sound a! (is it only a coincidence that the first letter of Abogin's name announces his grotesque entry?) echoes from the room in which he first realizes that his wife has absconded with Papchinsky. fearing to be misunderstood." so his suffering has a touch of the burlesque. He is arguably sympathetic in his tortured naïveté. the more we find some connection between his character and his bedroom melodrama. If. God. and inappropriately flowery and even seemed to do violence to the atmosphere of the doctor's home and to the woman who was somewhere dying. and therefore. touches him several times as though to establish human contact and to awaken Kirilov from the numbness of grief). did everything possible to give his voice a softness and tenderness.

"She's gone off! . his characterization of Abogin's bedroom drama as farce. "Worthless people!" Of course. his eyes looked as though they were laughing with pain. like Abogin in the first scene.. his savage comparison of Abogin's unhappiness or suffering to that of a capon who is unhappy because it is overweight. "A sick person! a sick person!" cried out Abogin. what has this got to do with me?" exclaims Kirilov after listening to Abogin pour out his family secrets... His nose. weeping. . his portrait of Abogin is a gross caricature.." The suggestion here is that a more sympathetic response on Kirilov's part might have helped assuage Abogin's grief. and with his big head and mane. his whole stance. . the melodramatic scene before us. has lost control of his words. "Who gave you this right to mock another man's sorrow?" Kirilov blindly observes.. We forget. his lips. thrust his white soft fists to his face. hands. with that clown Papchinsky! My God!" Abogin stepped heavily toward the doctor. . rage around big-rich. that Chekhov has provided us with an image of Abogin and his suffering that lends a certain credibility to this cruel caricature. it is noteworthy that toward the end of the story the narrator suggests that had the doctor been able to listen to Abogin instead of heaping abuse on him. moaned. Yet it appears that such a gesture was not . What did I do to her? She's gone off!" Tears gushed from his eyes. Kirilov." Indeed. "She has deceived me!" he cried. Now in his short coat and his fashionable narrow trousers in which his legs looked disproportionately slim. Yet what has Abogin's suffering got to do with Kirilov's? And can we—how much are we supposed to empathize with Abogin? We remember well Kirilov's gratuitous and cruel dismissal of Abogin as a clown. bent forward.. in this last reference to "laughing. he extraordinarily resembled a lion. Echoes of the irrelevant rad appear. . of course. In this connection. his moustache—all his features were moving and seemed to be trying to tear themselves from his face. . . and shaking them continued to wail: "She has gone off! Deceived me! But why this lie?! My God! My God! .His expression of satiety and refined elegance had disappeared. however. like Abogin's suffering. strongly accenting the second syllable. his touch with reality. weeping. seems to border on tragicomedy or even farce. laughing. Abogin "might have reconciled himself to his sorrow without protest. "If you marry big-rich. his face. were contorted by a repulsive expression combining horror and the torment of physical pain. all the while shaking his fists. and then act out a melodrama. Abogin took a heavy and wide step into the middle of the drawing room. . and shook his fists.

Unfortunately. with charity for all" (to borrow our words from Lincoln). Sisyphus in the eponymous myth is condemned to roll a stone to the top of the mountain only to have it roll down again to the foot of the mountain. But Chekhov was also human." ." I do agree that this is what should happen." in him. More than any other Russian writer in the nineteenth century Chekhov approaches humankind "with malice toward none. Beverly Hahn maintains that "it is Abogin who progressively gains the story's sympathy and Kirilov. who loses some of it. In short. The point is that it is too clearly a message. Chekhov's message is clear. More important. the reader is ill prepared for the sermonic words with which the narrator reproaches Kirilov at the end of the story. there would have been no charity. and so on. Had there not been a bit of the vrag. We are informed a little later that when Abogin leaves his house his usual "expression of satiety and refined elegance" have returned to him.necessary. I see Chekhov in "The Enemies" in the same position as Sisyphus. or "enemy. I do not think Abogin rises very much in our estimation at the end of the story or that Kirilov appreciably suffers. I think Chekhov understood this when he wrote "The Enemies. in his arrogant rejection of Abogin's suffering. I do not think that Chekhov succeeds wholly in overcoming a certain residual lack of sympathy for Abogin.

in essence. in form.) . That mental wards and penal institutions were associated in Chekhov's (From Reading Chekhov's Text. let us go along the narrow path." a fictional "visit" to an insane asylum. After an initial paragraph describing the exterior of the hospital." As soon becomes apparent. he invites the reader to enter the hospital premises with him as a guide: "If you are not afraid of being stung by the nettles. since it "stinks of the hospital and mortuary. than The Island of Sakhalin. Chekhov had for various reasons interrupted work on the factual. © 1993 by Northwestern University Press. "Ward Six" was a response to the trip. Still." in 1892. scholarly account of his visit to the penal colony. a response more indirect. less than two years after his journey to the penal colony of Sakhalin. 1892). Chekhov notes in passing that "people who are fond of visiting insane asylums are few in this world. but. perhaps just as immediate. 6." And yet Chekov has conspired to make the reader of his story feel like an actual visitor in the mental ward of a provincial hospital. in many ways. Warnings of the perils and hardships of a journey to this godforsaken place recall the beginning of Dante's Divine Comedy. one he considered uncharacteristic and in some ways unappealing. As he worked on "Ward Six." Chekhov found himself writing this story. these nettles are not all the visitor to ward 6 or the reader of "Ward Six" need fear. for to enter ward 6 is indeed to "abandon all hope.LIZA KNAPP Fear and Pity in "Ward Six": Chekhovian Catharsis In the middle of "Ward Six (Palata No.

mind is demonstrated by a series of comparisons made in the story. like that of a pilgrimage. Chekhov visited the island of Sakhalin. The experience of a pilgrimage becomes the empirical equivalent of a simile. a mental ward. be it that of a Muslim to Mecca." whose guilt. places that nobody wants to visit. Chekhov directly formulates the link between these two locales in a letter he wrote to Suvorin. Christ's. whether free or subjugated. is that ." Chekhov believed that he and others shared a collective responsibility for eliminating. Chekhov would have us believe. an inmate's) by imitating the experience and suffering of another. we all share. not to a penal colony. is to gain greater understanding of another's experience and suffering (Muhammad's. or at the very least acknowledging the suffering that takes place. unthinkingly and barbarously. Now all educated Europe knows that all of us. but they can try to find out what it is like. Ragin first puts on his hospital khalat. he tells Suvorin that were he a "sentimental man. he feels "like a convict. are to blame." At one point. but to an analogous place. or Chekhov's reader to ward 6." Furthermore. alleviating. we have let them rot to no purpose. In this spirit. is capable of. The point of a pilgrimage." writes Chekhov. We have driven people through the cold." When Dr. much less. this "place of unbearable suffering of the sort only man." Chekhov visited Sakhalin partly because he felt that it was time that Russia stopped ignoring the suffering that went on there. The premise of Chekhov's story. He wrote: "It is evident that we have let millions of people rot in jails. of course. we have infected them with syphylis. penal institutions and hospitals. by following physically in another's footsteps. [he'd] say that we ought to make pilgrimages to places like Sakhalin the way the Turks go to Mecca. ward 6 is called a "little Bastille. debauched them." Repeated references to the bars over the windows of ward 6 emphasize its likeness to a prison: lack of physical freedom and of human dignity is suffered in both places. explaining his motivation for visiting Sakhalin. not the wardens." "Ward Six" stands as the literary equivalent of a pilgrimage. They may not be able to duplicate what the other has lived through. with an exceptionally high concentration. Pilgrims do whatever they can to make the other's experience their own. in chains. In the first paragraph he mentions "that particular desolate. to inhabit. "The much-glorified sixties. across tens of thousands of versts. in these two locales. bred criminals and blamed it all on red-nosed prison wardens. a Russian subject to Sakhalin. with its own "red-nosed warden. "did nothing for the sick and for prisoners and thereby violated the chief commandment of Christian civilization. godforsaken look which is exclusive to our hospital and prison buildings. a Christian to Golgotha.

" for it also reveals what seems to have been Chekhov's intent in the story: to play on the reader's emotions so that he or she feels what it is like to be locked up in ward 6. according to Aristotle. we should not go so far as to equate them. Aristotle defines pity as the emotion we feel for undeserved suffering and fear as the emotion we feel when we witness the suffering of someone like ourselves. At the same time that we recognize similarities. I started to feel literally sick. or love for one's fellow man. which for the Greeks meant that one should have sympathy for one's fellow man." Tragic events reveal "the precariousness of the human condition" and thus "make men fear for themselves:" At the root of the fear is a recognition that one is much like the tragic protagonist. we.suffering cannot be understood in the abstract. since. according to Butcher. is predicated upon the recognition. we must bear the differences in mind. A strategy to be learned from Greek tragedy and epic is that if you want . I couldn't stay in my room." Tragedy thus has the effect of making the public less complacent and of reminding them that their own good fortune may be precarious. as Leskov put it. The basic mental operation involved is the same as that described by Aristotle elsewhere in the Poetics when he discusses similes and metaphors. had been incarcerated in Ward 6. Those who are incapable of fear are incapable also of pity. Chekhov aims at evoking pity and fear. however subliminal. of a similarity between the self and the other whose suffering is witnessed. the same emotions that. "we pity others where under like circumstances we should fear for ourselves. who commented: "When I finished reading the story last night. as one scholar puts it. put ourselves in their place and fall into a mood in which. That reading Chekhov's story has the effect of making one feel as if one were in ward 6 has been attested by many of its readers." Such a statement suggests more than the notion that. One should take another's "misfortunes as a warning of one's own insecurity. this sympathy stemming from a recognition of solidarity with others. I got up and went out. "Ward 6 is everywhere. In recognizing similarities between disparate phenomena. In evoking in the reader a response to the suffering that is witnessed in ward 6. a good tragedy will evoke in its audience. We need not have lived through what tragic heroes live through. "we feel that we too are liable to suffering. as audience. In his Poetics. that one is "endowed with similar capacities and exposed to similar dangers." Aristotelian pity and fear at times cease to be two discrete emotions. One needs to have it made as immediate as possible. I felt as if I. too." Both emotions are related to the concept of philanthropia. prominent among them being Vladimir Lenin. as understood by Aristotle. It's Russia." Fear. which are based on the intuition of similarites between different phenomena. rather.

he no longer responds empathetically to her suffering. the capacity for experiencing fear and pity has atrophied. [Priam] stirred in [Achilles] a passion of grieving for his own father. but this time he was strangely ." written in 1891. to give your father asylum (Antigone in Oedipus at Colonus) or to surrender your son's body for burial (Priam in The Iliad)—the best way is to make that person fearful. as "he spoke." Although a series of personal misfortunes had left him in an unstable mental state. Ragin. Similarly. by having the main drama result from the fact that neither of the two protagonists can respond adequately when he witnesses the suffering of others. since Achilles is fated to die soon. Antigone gains their sympathy. Chekhov demonstrates his understanding of the dynamics of Aristotelian fear and pity in "The Duel. You make that person realize that what you are suffering could happen to him or her." Although Chekhov mentions these Aristotelian concepts in a seemingly casual way. they appear to be central to "The Duel. was triggered when he found himself the chance witness to the misfortune of others. In Dr.another to take pity on you and do something for you—for example. her suffering (in the form of her illness) "evoked pity and fear in him {vozbuzh-dala v  zhalost' i strakh). a year before 'Ward Six. Ivan Dmitrich had often encountered convicts and they always aroused in him feelings of pity and discomfort. We are told that Gromov was going about his business one autumn day when "in one of the side streets. Antigone tells the people of Colonus who were shunning her and her father to look on her "as if [she] were a child of [theirs]" and to "take pity on [her] unhappiness." and this." especially to the moments of tragic recognition it describes. In "Ward Six" Chekhov explores the mechanics of pity and fear on two levels: not only does he seek to arouse these emotions in his readers as they witness the suffering of the inmates. Priam. for. he came upon two convicts in chains accompanied by four armed guards. moved Achilles to relinquish Hector's body." He creates fear in Achilles by reminding him that his own father will be in an analogous situation. but he also makes pity and fear dynamic forces within the story.' We are told that earlier when Laevsky loved Nadezhda Fedorovna. excessive fear. These Greek heroes implicitly realize that fear for oneself serves as a catalyst for bringing about pity for another. whereas once that love has been obscured. The strategy works." By bringing her plight home to them in this manner. leading to his mental collapse and incarceration. in turn. Already an inmate of ward 6 when the action begins. Hence. Ivan Dmitrich Gromov suffers from a "persecution mania. whereas in Gromov it has hypertrophied. trying to get Achilles to give him Hector's body. insofar as people use themselves as a point of reference. tells him: "Take pity upon me remembering your father.

who is in charge of the ward. Indeed. his situation would shock the reader but not evoke the deeper emotions of fear and pity. To a certain degree. Gromov realizes that he is exposed to similar dangers. He did not light his lamp in the evening and at night he was unable to sleep.and unaccountably affected. But his anxiety then develops into a persecution complex that debilitates him and threatens to engulf all else. conceivable? Gromov's feeling of "there but for the grace of God go I. or even a judicial error. were Gromov nothing more than the innocent victim of the obviously flawed Russian system. clapped in irons. Chekhov had learned of many cases of people being convicted of crimes they did not commit. shut his eyes to the suffering he witnesses. with Gromov. Dr. and was not calumny too. in the Poetics. Gromov goes from a wise recognition that such misfortune is something that could happen to him to the unhealthy delusion that it was happening to him." Chekhov appears to make Gromov into something of a tragic hero." his initial sympathetic pity for the convicts. we are told that. and an inexplicable mental anxiety prevented him from reading or concentrating." At the sight of the convicts. even his pity for other people. but was it not possible to commit a crime by accident. He knew of no crime in his past and was confident that in the future he would never be guilty of murder. At home he was haunted all day by these convicts and soldiers with rifles. Andrei Efimych Ragin. Aristotle argues that the misfortune of a completely innocent man is more "shocking" than "fearful and pitiful. In contrast. and the result is fear. At one point. one whose particular flaw may be seen as his tendency to excess in his response to the world. in Sakhalin. For some reason he suddenly felt that he too could be clapped in irons and led in this same way through the mud to prison. Gromov notes that . but kept thinking that he too could be arrested. arson or theft. and the concomitant fear for himself quickly give way to a nearly psychopathic self-pity as he imagines his own arrest for a crime he did not commit. Chekhov may be using Gromov's fear of judicial error to draw attention to the prevailing lack of faith in Russian justice. without meaning to. From the Aristotelian point of view. In a dangerous mental leap. Gromov's fears of incarceration become a self-fulfilling prophecy when he ends up imprisoned in ward 6. and thrown into prison. In what may be a reference to Aristotle's ethical ideal of the golden mean. Gromov's tragic flaw lies in his immoderate response to the suffering of others. or was about to. "there was no middle ground" (serediny zhe ne bylo).

"never mind whether you are freezing with cold or beside a good fire. and shouldn't. But the phrase literally means that it is all the same. Dr. and police. He elevates this colloquial verbal tick to the status of a general philosophical view that nothing matters. that there is a difference between being hungry and having enough to eat.heartlessness may be an occupational hazard afflicting judges. in insisting that everything is equivalent." claims Marcus Aurelius. The blind assertion of similarities between disparate phenomena. that there is a difference between being beaten and not. the more it becomes apparent that Ragin's tragic flaw lies in his unwillingness to concede these differences. Ragin practices. in which . such differences were quite real. "It's all the same" (vsëravno). that everything is like everything else. that is. the term philosopher stands as a pejorative epithet for someone who has withdrawn into his mind. between a frock coat and an inmate's smock. who preached a mix of philanthropy and retirement within the self. according to Aristotle. that all is equivalent. for whom it is all the same where and under what conditions he lives. physicians. not want to escape. The doctor's indifference to suffering manifests itself in his motto. that there is no difference between one thing and another. uses his own comfortable existence as his point of reference." In Chekhov's lexicon. the doctor vilely abuses the capacity for contemplating likenesses that. Ragin's callousness may be related to this phenomenon. is the tool of the philosopher. The more Gromov argues that there is a difference in climate between Russia and Greece. the convict can't. constitutes a disregard for the physical world and for life itself. Ragin. When Ragin presents Gromov with such platitudes as "In any physical environment you can find solace within yourself" or "The common man looks for good or evil in external things: a carriage." Chekhov had been reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. people who "have an official. professional relation to other men's suffering. For Chekhov. "If you are doing what is right." His point is that the doctor. recalls the "philosopher" Chekhov refers to in The Island of Sakhalin when he writes of convicts that "if he is not a philosopher. Ragin sees false similarities or equivalencies. such as Dr. In other words." Gromov counsels him to "go preach that philosophy in Greece." Dr. At the time he wrote "Ward Six. in asserting the equivalence of all external things. Dr. while the thinking man looks for them within himself. When he asserts the similarity between a comfortable study and ward 6. it's not suited to the climate here. and philosophical pessimism such as Ragin's was anathema to him. In a letter of 1894. Ragin echoes this notion of the equivalence of all physical states and the primacy of the inner world of the self. where it's warm and smells of oranges. a study. heavy-eyed or fresh from a sound sleep." In his long conversations with Gromov.

. I couldn't help believing in it." Chekhov directly suggests that his own commitment to progress results from the fact that differences between various physical states (differences of the kind ignored by Ragin) mattered to him. Andrei Efimych was convinced even now that there was no difference between Byelova's house [his former residence] and Ward No. Ragin's acquaintance with reality (which for Gromov is synonymous with suffering) has remained theoretical. Ragin himself becomes an inmate in ward 6. Gromov suggests that Ragin fails to respond to the suffering of others because he has never suffered himself." But soon. or one big. having never gone hungry. he fails to respond to the suffering around him.' thought Andrei Efimych [Ragin]. In "Ward Six" Chekhov points out the root meaning of the doctor's indifference: as he ceases to perceive the differences among real phenomena. 6. is the Aristotelian corollary of "It's all the same" (vsëravno)." Life had schooled him in such a way that he strove to improve physical conditions in an attempt to alleviate suffering. from Chekhov's point of view. in maintaining that "it is all futile. Ragin shows an exaggerated indifference to the suffering of others. The phrase that he keeps repeating to Gromov. According to Gromov. a uniform. modestly drawing the dressing gown around him and feeling that he looked like a convict in his new costume. Ragin. senseless. the physical differences that the doctor had so long denied become apparent: Nikita quickly opened the door. Whether it's a frockcoat. since. . . because the difference between the period when they flogged me and the period when they stopped flogging me was enormous. senseless tautology. roughly knocked Andrei Efimych to one side. Whereas Gromov was overcome by manic fear and self-pity. he feels no fear and consequently no pity. Dr. the doctor has had no firsthand knowledge of suffering and no conception of what it is to need. Ragin clings to his indifference: '"It's all the same [vsë ravno] . At first. In keeping with this worldview.he reveals his views on some of the issues explored in "Ward Six. . All this changes when Dr. senseless simile where everything is like everything else. Having never been beaten as a child. 'It's all the same [vsë ravno] . and using both hands and his knee. the world becomes one big. it's all the same [vsë ravno]' . doctors ought to believe in material progress." and that "there is essentially no difference between the best Viennese clinic and [this] hospital." violates the values of the medical profession. Ragin does nothing to alleviate the suffering he witnesses because he is indifferent to it. "What is there to fear? (chego boiat'sia?). the net result is the same: incarceration in ward 6. as Nikita takes away his clothes. . Dr. or this robe. But for both. then drew . . He writes: "I acquired my belief in progress when still a child.

" The question. for now he understands the suffering that he had witnessed day in and day out for years (or which he would have witnessed had he gone to work every day as he was supposed to). but his conscience. he is about to die. a salty taste in his mouth. what happens to Ragin is similar to what happens to King Lear. Andrei Efimich lay still. there was. made him turn cold from head to foot. Only now does he sense his true kinship with Gromov and others. It was terrible. Chekhov outlines a tragic situation for which there are many precedents.back his fist and punched him in the face. He bit the pillow and clenched his teeth with pain. "What is there to fear?" (chego boiat'sia?) is no longer a rhetorical one. so he was not guilty. holding his breath. Waving his arms as if trying to emerge. and all of a sudden out of the chaos there clearly flashed through his mind the dreadful. no less inexorable and implacable than Nikita. and twisted it several times in his chest and bowels. he caught hold of somebody's bed. The moon shed its pale light through the bars. How could it have happened that in the course of more than twenty years he had not known. This is ultimately what happens to Dr. He too was evidently being beaten. who now looked like black shadows in the moonlight. he could not possibly have known it. Then all was quiet. Only when he himself experiences physical pain does Dr. in a sense. one answer is pain. and on the floor lay a shadow that looked like a net. had refused to know this? Having no conception of pain. Ragin know what fear is: He waited "in terror to be struck again. and at that moment felt two more blows from Nikita's fists in his back. thrust it into his body. Ragin at the end of "Ward Six. Chekhov explores the epistemology of suffering and seems to suggest that the surest route to an understanding of suffering is to experience it directly. unbearable thought that these people. for yourself. Andrei Efimych felt as though a huge salty wave had broken over his head and was dragging him back to his bed. In this story. who takes pity on what he refers to as "houseless heads and unfed . having. For example. probably blood from his teeth. and he can do nothing about it. must have experienced this same pain day in and day out for years. waiting in terror to be struck again. in fact. Ragin gets an idea of what the inmates of ward 6 have endured day in and day out. been destroyed by his realization." But by the time Dr. He felt as if someone had taken a sickle. Ivan Dmitrich [Gromov] screamed loudly.

But the reader who "visits" ward 6 may. at the right time. does not. with the right motive." The protagonists of Chekhov's story fail to undergo catharsis upon witnessing the actual suffering of others. according to Aristotle. or as Ragin argues. "the purpose of the catharsis of pity and fear is not to drain our emotional capacities so that we are no longer able to feel these emotions. destroy the doctor. as does the direct vision of some impending calamity." But the physical suffering of feeling what powerless wretches feel.sides" only after he. finds himself homeless and hungry. too. though it may send an inward shudder through the blood. He becomes one with the tragic sufferer and through him with humanity at large." According to Aristotelian scholars. by being "lifted out of himself. The pity and fear Gromov experienced as he watched the convicts' suffering became pathological. "Tragic fear. The reader may even be motivated to act on behalf of the sick and prisoners. Ragin realizes that he had neglected both his professional and his human duties only when it is too late to do anything about them. and to the proper degree. on the contrary. Like Lear. developed into a mania. and found no outlet. then you should "expose [your]self to feel what wretches feel. thereby fulfilling what Chekhov referred to as "the chief commandment of Christian civilization. And the reason is that this fear. is based on the imaginative union with another's life. paralyzes. he had "ta'en / Too little care of this!" If you want to know what suffering is like. towards the right object. An essential difference exists between the fear experienced by the witness of mimetic suffering and that experienced by the witness (and especially by the victim) of actual suffering. Chekhov arouses fear and pity in his reader by making the suffering of others seem real and matter to the reader. does not paralyze the mind or stir the senses. But these emotions are not purged. combined with the physical pain they accompany. As one critic puts it. Lear realizes that when he had been in a position to help those in need. Chekhov refuses to romanticize suffering. whereas the former. but at the same time it destroys the physical organism." learn from the fear witnessed through the medium of art. He fears and pities only when the suffering becomes his own. The latter debilitates. unlike the fear of common reality. and even kills. The spectator is lifted out of himself. whereas Ragin for years exhibited a pathological inability to feel pity and fear upon witnessing the suffering of others. fear stuns. and under such circumstances the enlightenment serves little practical purpose. they. It may heighten consciousness. Although he presents tragic situations of this sort." For the inmates of ward 6. who in this way is spared the actual . it may indeed differentiate man's life from that of an amoeba. combined with mental anguish. instead it is to predispose us to feel emotion in the right way. kills Lear.

and artistic use of the very faculty that is impaired in his two heroes. in Chekhov's words. and. The reader should not. unlike the inmate. lest the reader ever try to ignore the difference between a comfortable study and ward 6. the faculty for contemplating similarities. of the fact that differences exist. In the passage describing the doctor's first beating and the tragic recognition it brings about within him. One difference is that the fictional visitor to ward 6. Chekhov employs many similes. by suggesting a physical image for something. The inmate is locked in ward 6.trip to ward 6. Gromov and Ragin. He uses it as an antidote to the indifference resulting from withdrawal into one's self. To this end. freedom. may have the actual power. moderate. Chekhov uses a series of similes: the taste of blood in Ragin's mouth is compared to a salty wave breaking over his head. spared actually putting on an inmate's smock. cathartic fashion. "Ward Six" is affective and effective largely because Chekhov makes proper. especially his artistic faculty for contemplating likenesses. judicious. prevent them from experiencing fear and pity in a healthy. the simile itself being the poetic device that. He concentrates on physical details." Since "Ward Six" is about. the simile becomes a particularly important literary device. the perils of withdrawing from the physical world into an abstract world of mental activity. who may never have been beaten and who may also be tempted to use ignorance as a moral subterfuge. and/or strength to fight to eliminate senseless suffering. on the stench of the place that makes you feel as though "you've entered a menagerie. spared actually being beaten by Nikita." on the bars on the window. Chekhov uses the simile to rouse the reader and force him or her back into the physical world. to encourage his readers to empathize with the inmates of ward 6. above all. among other things. Ragin's conscience is compared to Nikita. but the reader is not. Chekhov uses his literary skills. however. simply "sit within [his] four walls and complain what a mess God has made of creating man. Their respective disorders. the pain of being beaten is compared to that of having a sickle thrust into his body. Chekhov uses these similes to make what Ragin undergoes more vivid and real to the reader. "undoes the withdrawal from the physical world of appearances—which characterizes mental activities. Chekhov makes the fictional (mental) visit to ward 6 as vivid as possible. He does not lose sight. more interestingly. In trying to evoke fear and pity in the reader." . which are two extremes of the same continuum. to recognize the full horror of ward 6 by feeling that there is a kinship between them and the inmates. and so forth.

Traditional plays imitate life only to the extent that people imitate plays.. —Chekhov. But I have the temperament of Lermontov.. The theater has been realistic only when people have self-consciously reversed mimesis to imitate it. There are Hamlets in life primarily because people have read Hamlet or works like it.GARY SAUL MORSON Uncle Vanya as Prosaic Metadrama Solyony: I have never had anything against you. so they say . except when people try to endow their lives with a spurious meaningfulness by imitating literary characters and scenes. our tendency to live our lives "dramatically. © 1993 by Northwestern University Press. The Three Sisters Theater of Theatricality At might be said that the fundamental theme of Chekhov's plays is theatricality itself. . Baron. [Softly] I even look like Lermontov . Such reverse mimesis is typical of Chekhov's major characters. His plays center on histrionic people who imitate theatrical performances and (From Reading Chekhov's Text. life as we actually live it does not generally conform to staged plots. which is unfortunately all too common." In Chekhov's view. .) .

his plays rely to a great extent on metatheatrical devices. Chekhov gives us dramatic characters in an undramatic world order to satirize all theatrical poses and all attempts to behave as if life were literary and theatrical. Metatheatricality is most obvious in The Sea Gull. seek grand romance. imagine that a tragic fatalism governs their lives. that citizens from Hamlet suffuse the action.model themselves on other melodramatic genres. The audience. which truly cultured people avoid "even in small matters." Chekhov's toying with. Such virtues—the prosaic decencies in which Chekhov deeply believed—are typically practiced by relatively undra-matic characters who do not appreciate their own significance. They posture. Chekhov never tired of reminding Stanislavsky and others that his plays were not melodramas but precisely (as he subtitled The Sea Gull and The Cherry Orchard) comedies. Because histrionics is Chekhov's central theme. and. We have only to recall that one major character. In the background of the play and on the margins of its central actions. As a result. that an aspiring young actress tries to reenact the romance of a famous novel by sending its author a quotation from it. that a play-within-a-play provides the point of reference for all other events. Like a committee of the whole. That. an actress. of course. Chekhov's use of the technique in this play borders on the heavy-handed. Those devices show us why the world is not a stage and why we should detect falsity whenever it seems to resemble a play. Histrionics for Chekhov was a particularly loathsome form of lying. may be one reason people go to the theater. that her son is a playwright who devotes his life to romantic longing and ressentiment. which lives in the undramatic world we all know. but they do so in a world that seems as ordinary and everyday as the world of the audience. Chekhov's first major dramatic success. and indulge in Utopian dreams while they neglect the ordinary virtues and ignore the daily processes that truly sustain them. In most plays people behave "dramatically" in a world where such behavior is appropriate. Uncle Vanya becomes in its entirety a sort of play-within-a-play. In effect. truly meaningful prosaic life can be glimpsed. indeed. actions that would be tragic or heroic in other plays here acquire tonalities of comedy or even farce. Consequently. the internal play expands to become the drama itself. the work reverses the usual foreground and background of a drama. the dramatic frame may be seen as a particularly . Indeed. Uncle Vanya dispenses with much of this overt machinery while still maintaining the metatheatrical allusions it was designed to create. In Uncle Vanya the characters carry on just as "dramatically" as anyone might expect from the stage. behaves as theatrically with her family as she does on the stage. participates vicariously in the more interesting and exciting world of the stage.

Prince Andrei. As these examples show. or the idyll of which they dream. which is ironic. like many members of the intelligentsia. A member of an intelligentsia "circle. Not surprisingly. So Don Quixote. could find only prosaic reality. Emma Bovary. and not all intellectuals were intelligenty. in a novelistic world where epic heroism is an illusion. in the nineteenth century. which underwent a shift in meaning when borrowed from the Russian. this dominant tradition of the intelligentsia generated a countertradition of thinkers who rejected its fundamental premises. explicitly attack all . needed an "epic life" to realize her potential but. War and Peace places its epic hero. and a taste for the grand and dramatic was cultivated. and Ilya Ilych Oblomov become comic when forced to live in a realistic world rather than the chivalric adventure story. Prosaic virtues were regarded as unimportant. the romantic novel. solidarity—what Chekhov despised as intellectual conformism—was needed. socialism. and a mystique of revolution. they. To do so. plagiarize significance by imitating received models. If by intellectual we mean someone characterized by independence of thought. like Saint Theresa. Intelligenty were expected to adopt one or another grand system of thought that purported to explain all of culture and society and promised an end to all human suffering if a given kind of revolution should take place. an intelligent (member of the intelligentsia) was not necessarily an intellectual." even if he never read a book. he transforms his main characters into what might be called "generic refugees." That is. Middlemarch confers refugee status on Dorothea in its Prelude about how she. Tolstoy's masterpieces. Like his great predecessors in parody. Chekhov's main characters think of themselves as heroes or heroines from various genres of Russian literature. including militant atheism. would be considered an intelligent more readily than Leo Tolstoy. Here it is worth observing that the Russian term intelligentsia does not mean the same thing as the English word intelligentsia. of course. War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Having read the great authors. who expressed utter contempt for this whole complex of beliefs and lived a manifestly nonintelligentsial life.original use of a traditional satiric technique. In Russian. because they are characters in Russian literature. this technique does not preclude an admixture of sympathy in the satire. if not harmful. we can see how it was easily possible for an intellectual to be an "antiintelligentsial" and for an intelligent to be antiintellectual. A member of the intelligentsia was identified as such by a particular way of living—bad manners of a specified sort were important—and above all by a complex of attitudes. he creates characters who would be at home in one genre but places them in the world of another. the function of the intelligentsia was to adopt the right system and make sure its recommendations were put into practice. an opposition to all established authority.

and. and by the literary and cultural critic Mikhail Bakhtin. but the countless small. The audience contemplates real people—people like themselves—who live citational lives. either for individuals or for societies. all prescriptions for universal salvation. Their performance must allude to but not shatter the dramatic frame. for which "you've got to be not so much the young literary figure as just a plain human being. all attempts to find hidden laws of history. It was above all this aspect of Tolstoy's thought that had the most profound influence on Chekhov. and the countertradition generally. then an artificially overwrought solidarity will not be needed. are continually "overacting. by Mikhail Zoschenko. heroism. In its examination of histrionics. They labor under the belief that this role-playing brings them closer to "true life. citational. like the title of this play. When we watch Uncle Vanya." But their search for drama unfolds in Chekhov's universe of prosaics. Uncle Vanya is in a position to exploit metatheatrical devices. and decisive action. . lives consisting not so much of actions as of allusions. great theories. let us adopt the same attitude toward all. as we have seen. constantly expressed the deepest skepticism about the intelligentsial mentality and valued everyday virtues. They consider themselves to be either heroes or "heroes of our time. consequendy. Chekhov responded with an accusation of hypocrisy and a restatement of his most cherished values—honesty and simple acts of kindness." In the twentieth century this countertradition—the kind of thought I call prosaics—has been represented by that remarkable anthology of essays by disillusioned intelligenty. or else they try to play the lead roles in tragic tales of paralyzing disillusionment and emptiness. Both Chekhov and Tolstoy understood that the prestige of the intelligentsia cast a shadow on educated society as a whole and predisposed people to adopt grand roles drawn from literature. We are asked to consider the extent to which our own lives are." One reason the play has proven so difficult to stage in the right tonality— as critics and directors have constantly noted—is that the actors must overact and call attention to their theatrical status but without ceasing to play real people who truly suffer. Let us be ordinary people. Landmarks: A Collection of Essays on the Russian Intelligentsia (1909). it is not the dramatic events of life that matter. Invited to join one intelligentsia circle. who. Chekhov's characters imagine that they are heroes or heroines in a genre suffused with romance. They must not over-overact. For Tolstoy. that is. lives shaped by literary role-playing. prosaic events of daily life." but in fact it does the opposite. Uncle Vanya is theater about theatricality. and so its main characters.grand systems of thought. We see characters playing characters. we do not see actors playing characters.

like that of his Shakespearean model." As is so often the case in Chekhov's plays. . he peevishly demands that someone fetch his copy of the poet Batyushkov. and . mutually reinforcing poses. In his last appearance of the play. "After what has happened. Chekhov shapes his metaliterary satire of histrionics and intelli-gentsial posing. A professor of literature. knows what you and I don't. . . was a former theology student and the son of a sexton. As they cite novels. the line is more meaningful than he knows. and loud. because it is an empty barrel that one involuntarily hears. letter to Leontiev-Shcheglov. it would long ago have shown us the way and we would know what to do. ladies and gentlemen. Like Uncle Vanya. to announce that the Inspector General is coming"—evidendy without having considered that its action concerns confidence games. I'm afraid I may have it. Let's spit on all this. the authority of which you cite. looks down on those with fewer citations at tlieir disposal. he continues his game of allusions by citing Gogol's famous play—"I invited you here. criticism. Old Serebryakov. as the saying goes [Laughs]. and tries to illuminate his life with literary models. If it presents itself to you as influential. and other dramas. —Chekhov. why has it kept mum until now? Why doesn't it disclose to us the truth and immutable laws? If it had known. The Inspector General involves multiple layers of role-playing. we are told at the very beginning of the play. it is only because it is immodest. he first asks them "to lend me your ears. 1890 Chekhov places members of the intelligentsia at the center of his play because they are especially given to self-dramatization and because they love to display their superior culture. March 22. I have lived through so much. for the speech he has prepared." At the beginning of his speech to the assembled family in act III. Appropriately enough. the professor proposes to transform its action into yet another occasion for professional criticism. believe me. is made under false pretenses. These are just the roots one would choose if one's goal was to display a typical member of the intelligentsia. and self-induced self-deceptions. insolent. He makes even his illness allusive: "They say that Turgenev developed angina pectoris from gout. worthless chatter.TURGENEV'S GOUT If criticism. But criticism keeps pompously quiet or gets off cheap with idle.

In Gogol's play. and underground ressentiment of a disappointed member of the intelligentsia. we're talking business.. Pyotr Ivanovich Bobchinsky would feel his life were worthwhile if the powers that be knew of his mere existence: .. Filled with all the self-pity. but in either case it ought to disturb us professionals more than it has. but all he learns from his disillusionment is that the professor was the wrong intermediary. And we are aware of Dostoevsky's penchant for describing the very mixture of megalomania and self-contempt that Vanya so pathetically displays. was an M. Waffles.. . If the old professor projects ill-considered confidence in his merely citational importance." To put it mildly. but of kinship as well. In Telegin's pathetic "perhaps you know him" and in the truly Gogolian name Lakedomonov we may perhaps detect another allusion to The Inspector General. Chekhov has the ridiculous and truly pitiful Telegin interrupt the scene of confrontation. self-confident . As if to mock both Voinitsky's precarious connection to literature and his self-indulgent pleas for pity. Chekhov brilliantly merges despair and slapstick humor—we seem to check ourselves in midlaugh—when Voinitsky declares: "My life is over! I was talented...A. intelligent. can only create new ones. He realizes that for most of his life he has been content with a vicarious connection to the professor's vicarious connection to literature. I might have been a Schopenhauer. My brother Grigory Ilych's wife's brother—perhaps you know him—Konstantin Trofimovitch Lakedomonov. impotent rage. Given our own views of the professor. If I had had a normal life. that I believe I could write a whole treatise for the edification of posterity. who has at last understood such falsities." It is hard to decide whether to call this line pathetic or repulsive. I cherish not only a feeling of reverence for scholarship.thought so much in the course of a few hours. we may take at face value Voinitsky's denunciation of his work as an uncomprehending and momentarily fashionable deployment of modish but empty jargon. he regrets that he is too old to surpass the professor at his own game. VOINITSKY: Be quiet. then Voinitsky. But that only makes Voinitsky's desire for a better connection with literature even more misguided. a Dostoevsky . Telegin insists on his own incredibly vicarious link to scholarship: TELEGIN [embarrassed]: Your Excellency. the choice of Dostoevsky as an example of someone who lived "a normal life" suggests a rather odd (but intelligentsial) understanding of normality. .

who repeats. an enlightened personality. as we do. constantly "makes notes on the margins of her pamphlet. .BOBCHINSKY: I humbly beg you. Voinitsky seems unaware that he treats Telegin with the same disregard that he so resents in the professor's treatment of him." As he now sees. Her actions also suggest unconscious self-parody as she. BOBCHINSKY: And if you should happen to meet with the tsar. and the phrase is repeated by a number of characters. Telegin is a Bobchinsky for whom professors have replaced admirals." We may imagine that Voinitsky's rage at the professor's proposal to deprive him of the estate is fueled to a significant extent by resentment of his mother. "Pyotr Ivanovich Bobchinsky lives there. Perhaps he senses. then tell the tsar too. so by the time the stage directions repeat it again at the very end of the play. tell all those great gentlemen—the senators and admirals and all the rest—say. she can only repeat received expressions "about the emancipation of women. sir. as he puts it. don't contradict Aleksandr." KHLESTAKOV: Fine. a "venomous joke. in such and such a town there lives a man called Pyotr Ivanovich Bobchinsky." KHLESTAKOV: Very well." This stage direction closes act I. Her first speech concerns these insipid pamphlets that she imagines to be. As her son regrets his wasted life. in such and such a town there lives a man called Pyotr Ivanovich Bobchinsky. "books of wisdom. presumably like so many shallow members of the intelligentsia." without being aware that her own behavior verges on an unwitting counterargument. "Your Imperial Majesty. who has utter contempt for her. Believe me. as she has evidently done so often. in Voinitsky's phrase. "Jean. incessant acts of cruelty to her son that deprive her so totally of the audience's sympathy. she reproaches him in canned phrases for not caring more about the latest intellectual movements: "You used to be a man of definite convictions." Her devotion to intelligentsial concerns has led her to idolize the old professor. "Your Excellency or Your Highness." Even the professor. so Maria Vasilievna farcically duplicates him." Be sure to tell them. that as Telegin is a paltry double of Voinitsky. But it is not so much her vacuity as her small. she alone remains unaware that he is not what he pretends to be. we are ready to apply Voinitsky's phrase about the professor—perpetuum mobile—to her as well. when you return to the capital. Voinitsky is undoubtedly correct that his mother's "principles" are. is not so intolerable as she is. he knows better than we do what is right and what is wrong.

out of an intelligentsial love.Idleness and the Apocalypse of Squabbles Elena Andreevna. then. . Her speech about petty squabbles suggests that she has reflected on his daily pettiness and self-centered petulance. Chekhov can use these speeches to enunciate the play's central values while simultaneously illustrating the consequences of not taking these values seriously enough." Perhaps Chekhov intended Elena as an allusion to Dorothea Brooke. Elena is absolutely right: life is spoiled not by grand crises or dramatic disappointments but by "petty squabbles." It is all the more ironic. just as Voinitsky worked for him. you are an educated. the danger of histrionic behavior. VOINITSKY: First reconcile me to myself! My darling . Though they often fail to live up to the standards they recommend. And so Elena. cited self-pity. and I should think you would understand that the world is being destroyed not by crime and fire. the doctor who is summoned to treat him. her foolish. They even understand. almost to the point of the grotesque. and Astrov. Your business should be not to grumble. . requires and does not receive permission to play the piano. Elena understands that something is wrong. all these petty squabbles . who has studied music at the conservatory. We first see her in act I ignoring. although Elena lacks Dorothea's unshakable integrity. the feelings of Telegin: TELEGIN: The temperature of the samovar has fallen perceptibly. lazy ideas about the ruin of the world—all that is utterly hateful to me. more or less. but not what would be right. but by hatred. that in praising prosaic virtues she cannot avoid images of catastrophe and the rhetoric of apocalypse. enmity. and grand gestures. intelligent man. her choice of words strikes Voinitsky most: "All that rhetoric and lazy morality. which he explicitly justifies as a right conferred by his professorial status. all of which nevertheless infect their own speeches. Elena comes closest to a Chekhovian sermon as she fends off Voinitsky in act II: ELENA ANDREEVNA: Ivan Petrovich. For this reason. . Characteristically. . each combine prosaic insight with melodramatic blindness. . Elena married the professor. the professor's young wife. but to reconcile us to one another. they do glimpse the value of everyday decency and ordinary virtues.

or. Elena does not work but. [Tenderly] Let me give you some more tea. and Sonya. He has so little self-esteem that he expects to be overlooked. The old nurse speaks correctly when she complains that many of the household's ills derive from the visitors' disruption of old habits. on your estate . Elena fails the test. habits related to work. The intelligentsia may view habits as numbing. Attention. a nickname that only the pathetic Telegin could possibly accept and even repeat. as the sort of action and dialogue in Chekhov's plays makes clear. no irony. You may have been so kind as to notice that I have dinner with you every day. . And yet it is the cumulative effect of all those actions. we remember. indeed. after all. I live here now. I am not Ivan Ivanovich. as some people call me because of my pockmarked face. one will detect no reproach. but Ilya Ilych . arrived at over the course of decades and carefully calibrated so that the estate can be well managed. out of a sense that he is too insignificant to be remembered even when he is constantly present. and so he reminds people of his existence—or of his brother's wife's brother's existence—sincerely. that conditions and indeed constitutes our lives. I am Sonichka's godfather. is one reason Chekhov emphasizes them so much and one way in which he makes even short literary forms so resonant with incidents not directly described. Ivan Ivanovich. infects everyone around her with her idleness. governed largely by habit. rather. as Astrov observes. calls him Waffles. Chekhov's wiser characters also understand that .ELENA ANDREEVNA: Never mind. but from the standpoint of prosaics. has been replaced by a purely whimsical approach to time: Marina is awakened to get the samovar ready at 1:30 in the morning. we'll drink it cold. our right hand. . habits result from countless earlier decisions and therefore can serve as a good index to a person's values and past behavior. Waffles. Moreover. is a limited resource. passes it. . Ilya Ilych Telegin.. Voinitsky. If these lines are performed as I think Chekhov meant them. Chekhov uses Telegin as a touchstone for the basic decency of other characters: is it worth their while to be kind to someone who is obviously of no use to anyone? In this scene. and His Excellency. A schedule. who calls him Godfather. your husband. in Telegin's voice. SONYA: Ilya Ilych is our helper. . That. Godfather. knows me quite well. and most of what we do occurs when we are concentrating on something else or on nothing in particular.. TELEGIN: I beg your pardon . good or bad habits more than anything else shape a life.

[Embraces her] Don't be bored. ELENA ANDREEVNA: I don't know how to do such things. Her misunderstanding allows Chekhov to make a characteristically prosaic point about meaningful activity. you'll get accustomed to it. If that were what Sonya meant. she can only be bored. . great sacrifice. when those moments pass. They keep one's mental hands free. but Elena cannot understand: ELENA ANDREEVNA [in misery]: I'm dying of boredom. Given her usual ways of thinking in literary terms.attention can be applied to new problems that demand more than habit only if good habits efficiently handle routine concerns. life becomes meaningful at times of high drama. Wait a bit. for no reason whatever. and work. Uncle Vanya and I used to go to market ourselves to sell the flour. presumably. . ordinary work—figure as a major theme. Only in idealistic novels do people teach and doctor the peasants. Isn't that enough? When you and Papa were not here. Sonya tries to suggest a different view. Elena's objections would be quite apt. the dynamics and significance of work—daily. She imagines that Sonya offers only a ridiculous populist idyll." That. She values daily work and unexceptional moments. SONYA [shrugging her shoulders]: Isn't there plenty to do? If you only wanted to . is why she ignores the possibility of helping with the estate and singles out teaching or doctoring the peasants. take care of the sick. and how can I. routine. and high ideals—she really has them— Elena does not appreciate the importance of habits. Relying on beauty. That is to say it can be redeemed only by exceptional moments. . Elena significantly misunderstands Sonya. or passionate romance. Elena's only idea of work corresponds to a view that Levin learns to reject in Anna Karenina—work "for all humanity"—and she correctly rejects that choice as work "for no reason whatever. And it's not interesting. teach. Consequently. In the Russian countertradition. charm. she translates Sonya's recommendations into a speech from an "idealistic novel. suddenly start teaching and looking after the peasants? SONYA: I don't see how one can help doing it." What she cannot understand is the possibility of a different sort of work that would be meaningful: prosaic work. I don't know what to do. ELENA ANDREEVNA: For instance? SONYA: You could help with running the estate. For her. darling.

That is one reason the play ends with the long-delayed recording of prices for agricultural products.. as we see in this very passage when she responds not with a counterargument but with a sympa-thetic embrace of the despairing Elena. profitability. dialectic. When Elena characterizes caring for peasants as a purely literary pose. One has to know how they are done.. Sonya replies that she does not see "how one can help doing it. the autumn is really beautiful.Thinking like a member of the intelligentsia. it is not a literary pose. "in the lap of nature ." For Sonya. that daily flow. and they cannot just be picked up "suddenly." as Elena correctly observes. Sonya recommends taking care of the estate because it has to be done.. so why not here. like Voinitsky. Those thousand decencies. Here there is the plantation. WASTE BY OMISSION those graceful acts. the dilapidated country houses in the style of Turgenev. like the sort of daily work Levin describes as "incon-testably necessary. which is what Sonya is really recommending. At least it's poetic. and the sort of deliberate calculation needed to avoid waste. You are bound to be unfaithful sometime and somewhere." He might almost have said in the . he tells Elena. Like Elena and Voinitsky. Her mistake in marrying the professor has convinced her that transcendent meaning is an illusion. Paradise Lost Least of all does Elena need romance. What she does not see is that she needs to begin acquiring new ones. and that is her real problem. ecstatic affair in a literary setting. Like Tolstoy. High ideals or broad social goals have nothing to do with her efforts on behalf of others. Sonya understands that both work and care require habits of working and caring.. she believes that either meaning is grand and transcendent or else it is absent. Chekhov had utter contempt for the intelligentsia's (and aristocracy's) disdain of efficiency. which is troubling in itself. which is what Astrov offers. can imagine only the opposite. and the intelligentsia's." implicitly challenges the very terms of Elena's. a meaningless world of empty routine extending endlessly. and it serves no ideology but is part of her more general habits of caring for everyone. —Milton. But Sonya's actual recommendation. and so she. Elena has the wrong habits. he is obsessed with the vision of a brief. She can draw an "incontestable" connection between getting the right price for flour and making the estate operate profitably or between not allowing the hay to rot and not indulging in waste.

In a way not uncommon in literary history.." a line that. don't drink any more. are hysterical. Of course. . this very speech exemplifies the intelligentsia's indulgence in self-pitying self-analysis. "What's the use?" he asks at the beginning of the play. Astrov constantly looks for literary or theatrical images to explain his life. if not farcical. why. it's hard to get along with the intelligentsia—they tire you out. they see no farther than their noses: to put it bluntly. the more one is aware of it. he knows it. All of them. think and feel in a small way. When he repeats "Finita!" soon afterward. are you destroying yourself?" And in fact. [He is about to drink] SONYA [stopping him] : No. And those who are more intelligent and more outstanding. That's me. which is why Chekhov has him drink while complaining. On the contrary. When this pathetic attempt at seduction fails. but not the sort of introspection that Astrov describes. but merely destroy what has been given them from above. (Perhaps that is what Karl Kraus meant when he said that psychoanalysis is the disease that it purports to cure. I beg you. .) The more Astrov blames himself for whining. But this self-knowledge does him no good for reasons that Chekhov frequently explores. Astrov whines about whining. To persuade him not to drink. "You always say people don't create. his speeches are the closest Chekhov comes to a Tolstoyan essay or to one of Levin's meditations. the possibility of farce grows stronger. the more that awareness becomes a part of it.. They whine. the more he whines about of Chekhov. "In one of Ostro-vsky's plays there's a man with a large moustache and small abilities. please. eaten up with analysis and introspection . interpreted literally." In fact. Some self-destructive behavior can be modified by an awareness of what one is doing. they're stupid. This sort of introspective self-pity feeds on itself. and for whining about whining.. Then why. and what's more. so does alcoholic self-pity. Astrov intones "Finita la commedia.. . Astrov's lectures on what we would now call "the environment" sound so strikingly contemporary that it is hard to see them in the context of Chekhov's play. all our good friends here. these self-pitying allusions make him a good example of the "more intelligent" members of the intelligentsia as he describes them: ASTROV: . their very coincidence with current concerns provokes critical anachronism or the . does correctly characterize his desire for romance as comic. Sonya reproaches Astrov for contradicting himself. Astrov has spoken powerfully about waste and the need for prosaic care.

. . What destroys the forests. Literally and figuratively. more accurately. is waste.. Like good housekeeping and careful estate management. . All that is charming. Trees fall. if there were factories. and if in place of these devastated forests there were highways. and all because lazy man hasn't sense enough to stoop down and pick up fuel from the ground. the lack of good ones. and what destroys lives. and the people had become healthier. bravo! . but not very convincing. unwasted forests subtly condition the lives unfolding in their midst. schools. what bothers Chekhov. . with his clothes still rumpled and his bad habits showing. therefore. Where Sonya. . And waste results from the lack not of great ideals but of daily care. They intone . The Russian forests are groaning under the ax . railroads. Destruction results from what we do not do. allow me to go on heating my stoves with logs and building my barns with wood. To paraphrase their thought: the background of our lives imperceptibly shapes them. is not some malevolent force. richer. refuses to see the point: VOINITSKY [laughing] : Bravo. Voinitsky. ASTROV: You can heat your stoves with peat and build your barns with brick. but why devastate the forests?" he says. modifies the tiny alterations of our thoughts. everyday laziness. Astrov and Sonya also give voice to that vision when they describe how the ruin of forests is not just an analogue for but also a cause of needlessly impoverished lives. "Now I could accept the cutting of wood out of need. "You will say that. and lives are ruined. Chekhov's prosaic vision receives remarkably powerful expression in these passages. because what happens constantly at the periphery of our attention. . the old life must naturally give place to the new.interpretation of them as detachable parts. or. [to Astrov] and so. go wrong is in their rhetoric. . which. and especially Astrov. It is worth stressing. not some lack of great ideas. our surroundings temper the "climate" of our minds. mills. that Astrov does not object to any and all destruction of trees. and bad habits. more intelligent—but. and not some social or political evil. wonderful landscapes vanish never to return. What bothers Astrov. because of thoughtless behavior. I understand. my friend. like Elena's. you see. what is so familiar that we do not even notice it. . Yes. there is nothing of the sort!" The chamber of commerce might well concur. becomes rapidly apocalyptic or Utopian. After Sonya offers her breathless paraphrase of Astrov's ideas. The forests disappear for the same reason that the hay rots.

Forests temper the severity of the climate. in spite of everything. in his millenarian references to the destiny of all mankind. teach man to understand beauty and induce in him a nobility of mind. my soul is filled with pride. but what does Astrov's reflect? In his tendency to visionary exaggeration. their gestures graceful. so man is softer and more tender. in a small way. their speech is elegant. mankind is happy. ASTROV: . [seeing the workman who has brought a glass of vodka on a tray] however . The doctor and his admirers show enthusiasm in the sense Dr. or when I hear the rustling of young trees which I have planted with my own hands. and romance—and to drink. He says that the forests . When I plant a birch tree and then watch it put forth its leaves and sway in the wind. Science and art flourish among them. and their attitude toward women is full of an exquisite courtesy . In countries where the climate is mild. . Johnson defined the word: a vain belief in private revelation. . Utopias. their philosophy is not somber. and that if. . a thousand years from now. . and I . . we sense his distinctly unprosaic tendency. in such countries the people are beautiful. maybe I am just a crank. . .lyrical poetry celebrating prosaic habits and praise undramatic care with theatrical declamation: SONYA: If you listen to him [Astrov]. . . Sonya's enthusiasm reflects her love for Astrov. to think in the terms of drama. you'll fully agree with him. I shall be responsible for that too. I realize that the climate is some what in my power. less energy is wasted in the struggle with nature. easily stirred. but when I walk by a peasant's woodland which I have saved from being cut down. . [Drinks] They expect a lot from trees. flexible. .

"Vanka" published.1860 Chronology Anton Pavlovich Chekhov born January 17 in Taganrog. flees Taganrog for Moscow. 1875 Chekhov's father. a well-established Russian writer. Chekhov's family is evicted from their home. but Chekhov decides to remain in Taganrog to complete his high school education. Crimea. Petersburg under the penname Antosha Chekhonte. Chekhov's first play. Ivanov. and Eugenia Morozov. Chekhov's grandfather had bought his way out of serfdom just twenty years earlier. is produced in Moscow to mixed reviews. There he rejoins his family and enrolls in the University of Moscow to study medicine. Begins fruitful correspondence with Dmitri Grigorovich. 1879 1880 1884 1886 1887 . to Pavel Yegorovich. Chekhov moves to Moscow. Begins medical practice. Begins contributing humorous short stories and sketches to magazines in Moscow and St. a grocer. forced into bankruptcy.

First diagnosed with consumption. a early prototype for Uncle Vanya. closes after three performances. 1889 1890 1891 1892 1894 1896 1897 1898 1899 1901 1902 1903 1904 . Three Sisters published. a disease that will eventually prove fatal. 6" published. Chekhov works to relieve the cholera epidemic that ensues among the serf population. which failed in its first production. Moves to Yalta with his family after his father's death. The Wood Demon. or pulmonary tuberculosis." "Ward No. The Cherry Orchard produced in January with great acclaim. of pulmonary tuberculosis at age 44. The Sea Gull produced at the Alexandra Theatre in the fall to disappointing crowds. also with success. The Sea Gull. "Gooseberries" published. "The Steppe" published. Uncle Vanya published.1888 Wins the Pushkin Prize for Literature from the Russian Academy of Sciences. "Rothschild's Fiddle" and "The Student" published. "Lady with Lapdog" published. "The Betrothal" published. Chekhov's brother Nikolai dies of tuberculosis. a member of the Moscow Art Theater troupe. Uncle Vanya opens in Moscow to large audiences. "The Bishop" published. This work becomes material for his short story written concurrently. "The Peasants. When famine hits the nearby Russian provinces. he interviews up to 160 people a day. Travels to Siberia to report on the Sakhalin Island penal colony. During his research there. Marries Olga Knipper. reopens at the Moscow Art Theater. Chekhov dies on July 2 in Germany.

Ruin the Sacred Truths. His plays include The Moments of The Wandering Jew and The Muse of Self Absorption. he fled Vienna where he was studying to become a director. Breaking the Vessels. and of The Theatrical Event. winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. to escape the Nazi invasion of Austria. He has published numerous dramatic and critical works including: The Recantation of Galileo Galilei. His most influential book. as editor and translator. HAROLD BLOOM is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor at New York University. The Theatre of Commitment and. He is the author of Acting as Reading. 1992-93. The Western Canon and The Book of J. He is an extraordinarily prolific and innovative author of many literary critical works including: The Anxiety of Influence. DAVID COLE is a playwright and scholar. He has edited numerous collections of literature and critical essays. Hungary. including the present collection. The Playwright as Thinker. came . MARTIN ESSLIN was born in 1918 in Budapest.Contributors ERIC BENTLEY was born in 1916. In 1938. He is a literary critic. In Search of Theatre. The Theater of the Absurd. Seven Plays by Bertold Brecht and Naked Masks by Pirandello. He became a British citizen and worked as writer and drama critic for the BBC. a translator and a writer on theater. From 1953 to 1969 he was the Brandes-Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia University in New York.

In the World and My Universities. Chekhov. MICHAEL C. She has published numerous critical studies. short-story writer and playwright. Pasternak. MATHEWSON. JR. LIZA KNAPP is a professor of Slavic Language and Literatures at the University of California. was born in 1919. His numerous writings include: The Art of Dostoevsky: Deliriums and Nocturnes. After the Revolution. Notes from a Diary. From his birth in 1868 until his early 20's Gorky lived in terrible poverty and by hard labor. RUFUS W. Bensinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy and other writers. The Artamonov Business and various plays. He is also the President of the International Chekhov Society. because of his commitment to the revolutionary principles. FINKE is a professor of Russian language and literature at Washington University in St. Gogol. Louis. Greek plays. including The Idea of Theater: A Study of Ten Plays and other works on Dante. Childhood. After this period. Tolstoy and Marina Tsvetaeva. ROBERT LOUIS JACKSON was born in 1923 in New York City. He has written about Chekhov and Pushkin. He is the . including Chekhov. Chekhov. He was a friend to various famous writers in Russia. his autobiographical trilogy. Reading Chekhov's Text and other essays on Turgenev. FRANCIS FERGUSSON is Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University. New York. MAXIM GORKY was a Russian novelist. An Anatomy of Drama. . dramatic literature and poetry. As a teacher and writer. Dialogues with Dostoevsky: The Overwhelming Questions. Other works by him include: Reflections: Essays on Modern Theatre. Among his numerous works are: Mother. She has written on Dostoevsky. He was imprisoned several times for his Marxist writings and for his participation in the Revolution of 1905. He was chairman of the Department of Slavic Languages and professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. he significantly influenced the work of several generations of Russian scholars . he started to write and publish. Chekhov. The Peopled Wound: The Work of Harold Pinter and a collection of his radio talks for Britain's Open University. Berkeley. Gorky was able to intercede and often save the life of many literary figures.out in 1961 and has been consistently reissued.

Numbered among her works are: To the Lighthouse. MAY is a professor of English at California State University. He died in Brooklin. critic. LEON (LEV) SHESTOV was a Russian existentialist philosopher and religious thinker. Dostoevsky. Turgenev and Bahktin. He has served as a lecturer. Hidden in Plain View: Narrative and Creative Potentials in "War and Peace" and of other works on Tolstoy. His translated works include: All Things Are Possible. For forty years he was poetry editor for The New Yorker. VIRGINIA WOOLF was born in 1882 in London and committed suicide in 1941. HOWARD MOSS was born in New York City in 1922. Mrs. winner of the Leonore Marshall National Prize for Poetry in 1986. a fellow. His critical works include Writing Against Time and Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust. a director and a reader of English Studies at Jesus College. He is the Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities and Professor of Slavic Languages at Northwestern University. ME in 1978. Chekhov. Keywords and his Border Country trilogy.and teachers. CHARLES E. Penultimate Words and Other Essays and In Job's Balances. He was a poet. These include: Reading and Criticism. . The Positive Hero in Russian Literature and several essays on Chekhov. Cambridge. Drama from Ibsen to Brecht. She is recognized as one of the most innovative novelists and experimental essayists of Modernism. RAYMOND WILLIAMS was born in Wales in 1921. Among his writings are his book. He died in 1987. A Room of One's Own. Culture and Society: 1780-1950. winner of the National Book Award in 1971 and New Selected Poems. and his six-volume work-in-progress. Dalloway and Between the Acts. Long Beach. GARY SAUL MORSON was born in 1948 in New York City. He has written and edited a large number of critical works and several plays and novels. He is author of The Boundaries of Genre: Dostoevsky's "Diary of a Writer" and the Traditions of Literary Utopia. Among his writings are: Short Story Theories. The Theory and History of Short Fiction and more than 100 essays mainly concerned with the short story. His poetic works include Selected Poems. He was born in Kiev in 1866 and died in Paris in 1938. editor and teacher.

New York: Norton. Friedland. The Brute. by Louis S. Selected and ed. and Theodore Hoffman. 1966. Chekhov: The Major Plays. Hall. 1949-1960. 2nd ed. Trans. 1973.. 1959. Anton Chekhov's Plays. Letters on the Short Story. 1985. . Jarrel. Bristow. New York: Grove Press. New York: Harper & Row.. Hingley. Yarmolinsky. ed. 1979. 1968. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Eric.Bibliography Bentley. New York: Viking. New York: Public Library. the Drama and Other Literary Topics by Anton Chekhov. The Oxford Chekhov. trans. New York: Dover Publications. Bibliographies Lantz. ---------. eds. Matelaw. Ralph E. Kenneth A. Dunnigan. Randall. Savely and Munir Sendich. The Portable Chekhov. and Other Farces. The Three Sisters. 1965-1980. Trans and ed. The Unknown Chekhov: Stories and Other Writings. New York: Benjamin Blom. Boston: G. ed. Ann. 1977. Norton Critical Edition. K. London. East Lansing. Senderovich. New York: 1964. MI: Russian Language Journal. by Constance Garnett. 2nd. Background. Eugene K. New York: Macmillan. 1987. Anton Chekhov: A Reference Guide to Literature. Heim in collaboration with Simon Karlinsky. Avrahm. by Micheal H. Anton Chekhov Rediscovered. éd. Letters of Anton Chekhov. 1947. Anton Chekhov's Short Stories: Texts of the Stories. 9 vols. 1958. Ronald. rpt. 1969. Yachnin. The Letters of Anton Pavlovich Tchehov to Olga Leonardovna Knipper. Criticism. The Chekhov Centennial: Chekhov in English: A Selective List of Works by and About Him. 1966. 1960. New York: Norton. Rissa.. A Collection of New Studies with a Comprehensive Bibliography.

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